Two weeks ago, NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement walked the runway at New York Fashion Week to deliver a message to Selena Gomez: as a spokesperson for Adidas, she is also a spokesperson for sweatshops. Today, students, professors and community members will deliver a letter to NYU demanding that the university end its licensing agreement with Adidas because of the company’s abuse of workers around the world.
Adidas currently owes $1.8 million to 2,800 people in Indonesia who sewed collegiate apparel for the company. The workers, who on average earned 60 cents an hour before the factories closed, have struggled to make ends meet, and many have had to withdraw their children from school. Adidas refuses to pay them legally owed severance.
Workers from Indonesia, Honduras and Haiti who make Adidas apparel have hit the road in the United States this month, visiting schools like NYU, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Notre Dame to tell their stories about working under inhumane conditions in Adidas factories. This tour is taking place on the heels of the announcement that workers in Adidas factories in Central America and Southeast Asia have launched the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, an unprecedented effort aimed at pressuring companies like Adidas to take responsibility for the conditions in their subcontracted factories. As the League’s first declaration states, the brands determine the wages and conditions in factories by setting the price and pace of orders. Labels like Adidas can be part of the solution to poor sweatshop conditions by guaranteeing living wages and funding safety improvements.
Students are also taking a stand against illegal sweatshop practices. SLAM has taken on the international Badidas Campaign, a movement coordinated by United Students Against Sweatshops. Six schools have already terminated their Adidas contracts, and I hope NYU will be the next school to do so. Students have the right and responsibility to monitor our university’s business relationships and take action when human rights are not being respected. In 2009, NYU was the 19th school to cut its contract with Russell Athletic because of similar concerns over workers’ rights. After over 100 schools cut ties with Russell, the company was forced to pay millions in back pay and reopen a factory in Honduras with the workers’ union intact.
As we have seen time after time, when students and workers come together, we can force companies to raise industry standards and compete on brand quality rather than worker exploitation. NYU has an important role to play in the fight for workers’ rights, and the next step is to cut ties with Adidas.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 20 print edition. Robert Ascherman is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]