– By Jeff Monahan After two years of grassroots activism, the BADidas campaign is finally resolved. In the wake of the factory collapse in Bangladesh, this shows that activism can force companies to take responsibility for their supply chains. The camp …

Walton Pantland

– By Jeff Monahan


After two years of grassroots activism, the BADidas campaign is finally resolved. In the wake of the factory collapse in Bangladesh, this shows that activism can force companies to take responsibility for their supply chains.

The campaign began when PT Kizone, an Indonesian factory, failed to pay workers in September 2010 and eventually went bankrupt in April 2011 after its owner fled the country and the factory’s buying agent could not maintain the business.  Nike, Adidas, and the Dallas Cowboys each had products manufactured there.

When the factory closed, it still owed $3.3 million to over 2,700 garment workers.  Nike and the Cowboys made partial contributions towards the balance.  It made sense: they had extremely deep pockets and their business model of outsourcing the labor was the reason PT Kizone was in operation in the first place.  Adidas was not so understanding.

The company refused to make any payments.  It claimed that its relationship with PT Kizone ended six months before it closed, and that assuming severance payments for its subcontractor was “against Adidas’s policy.”

Thankfully, the United Students Against Sweatshops took action. USAS is a youth-lead labor organization with representation at over 150 campuses.  They are able to hold multi-national companies like Adidas accountable because they value universities as clients.  It was a convenient campaign: Adidas pays millions and millions to collegiate athletics programs each year.   When USAS got seventeen schools to terminate contracts with Adidas and others to issue an ultimatum, Adidas finally gave in and paid $1.8 million to the garment workers.

Congratulations are first due to the workers and their admirable display of solidarity (you can your name to the letter to former PT Kizone workers here).  Their ability to organize and create a louder voice is exactly what we advocate at Union Solidarity International.  Second, congratulations to USAS on a successful campaign.  Their nationwide efforts on dozens and dozens of campuses made the difference and they deserve recognition for what they accomplished.  Beyond the success, however, are four other things we can learn from the BADidas story:

1) Small and young organizations can make a huge difference.  The USAS was formed just sixteen years ago and has since initiated precedent-setting campaigns.  The fact that their presence has affected major National Collegiate Atheltic Association universities and sponsors at a relatively young age is both impressive and promising for future movements as well.

2) The imbalance in the global economies is eye opening.  The 2,700+ PT Kizone workers got an average of around $650 (US) each from Adidas.  They were earning $.60 per hour, so it would have taken each worker about 1,100 hours to earn their wage.  If we assume a typical (for us privileged Americans) forty-hour work week, that is twenty-seven weeks’ worth of pay, but we all know those workers were forced to work wayyy more than forty hours per week.  Even considering the full $3.3 million they were owed, that’s only about $1,100 per worker, and they were probably the sole provider for their family.  Can you imagine supporting children on that wage?  It’s hard to argue against outsourcing labor when it is so cheap, but it is important not to lose sight of the standard of life our brothers in other countries are faced with.

3) Big universities are held hostage by their lucrative contracts.  The University of Michigan’s (my alma matter) current agreement with Adidas will pay it $60 million.  Wisconsin is another prominent university with a large Adidas contract.  Neither was willing to cancel its contract with the supplier like smaller budget schools were.  Why?  Money, money, money.  What a shame.  Neither can afford to lose that revenue, but smaller schools whose athletic programs are less of a focus are willing to commit themselves to challenging Adidas’ exploitive practices.  It is ironic that the most powerful are the least likely to exert their power.

4) Similar issues probably goes unnoticed too often.  It is easier to draw attention to issues like PT Kizone because beneficiaries like prominent NCAA universities are in the public eye and will draw widespread criticism if no action is taken.  But there are still many instances that go unnoticed, and sometimes the workers are denied more than fair pay.  We hope that our efforts at Union Solidarity International will improve global knowledge of human rights whether large, public companies like Adidas are involved or not.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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