Students and Professors ask Skorton to Sever Adidas Contract

Cornell Committee recommends severing apparel contract with Adidas, citing labor abuses the company allegedly committed in 2011

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By Sarah Sassoon via The Cornell Daily Sun, 9/7/12

Cornell’s Licensing Oversight Committee voted Thursday to recommend that President David Skorton sever the University’s apparel contract with Adidas, citing labor abuses the company allegedly committed in 2011.

Adidas, along with Nike and the Dallas Cowboys, had been manufacturing logo-bearing apparel for Cornell at PT Kizone, a factory in Tangerang, Indonesia.

When the factory closed in the spring of 2011, nearly 3,000 workers were left without severance pay — amounting to at least $3.3 million in payments withheld, according to a report published in May 2011 by the Workers Right Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization with which Cornell is affiliated. The report alleges that Adidas alone owes $1.8 million in severance to its former workers.

“Adidas has denied that they were producing in the factory at the time of closure despite evidence … that proved otherwise,” the Sweatfree Cornell Coalition said in a statement Thursday. “The LOC has already determined that the company’s actions violate our Code of Conduct; the next step is for the President to cut the contract with Adidas.”

While Nike and the Dallas Cowboys have since paid their workers the money they owed them, Adidas has refused to claim responsibility for its severance obligations, according to Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC.

Karen Li ’15, president of Cornell United Against Sweatshops and a member of the LOC, said student activists on campus have joined forces in response to the alleged Adidas abuses, leading to the LOC’s decision Thursday to send a recommendation to Skorton.

“The president must assess the situation and proceed how he sees fit,” said Mike Powers, licensing director of University Communications and chair of the LOC.

If Cornell terminates its contract with Adidas, it would be the first university in the U.S. to do so because of labor rights violations, according to Casey Sweeney ’13, a member of the LOC.

The LOC’s code of conduct states that companies under contract with the University must adhere to the local labor laws in place where their factories are located. According to Li, Adidas violated Indonesian labor laws by denying workers at its factory severance pay.

“It is a blatant violation [of the LOC’s code of conduct] that [Adidas] is still refusing to pay the workers after over a year,” Li said.

The LOC was first created in Spring 2010, when Nike was accused of withholding severance pay from former workers of Honduran factories it had closed, The Sun reported at the time. The LOC recommended that the University suspend its contract with Nike until the company agreed to pay the workers — which it ultimately did.

“Cornell is once again being a leader in upholding workers’ rights in the world, as we did with Nike,” Li said.

Regardless of the effect cutting ties would have on Adidas, Li said that the LOC’s main priority is the workers and their labor rights.

“We have a very small contract with Adidas . . . The fact still remains that they violated our code of conduct at a pretty egregious level. It’s our priority to see that we do not maintain a business relationship with such a company,” she said.

Nova added that Adidas’ failure to pay its workers is perpetuating a culture of violating labor rights.

“It’s important to note that these are real people we’re talking about, people with families,” he said. “There are permanent consequences here.”

“Cornell is really going to work hard to help companies realize that there is a responsibility here,” Powers added.

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