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Adidas Protest Crashes Sustainable Fashion Forum

A group of 37 protestors demonstrating against Adidas about wage theft in its supply chain interrupted the seventh annual Sustainable Fashion Forum (SAF) last weekend in Portland after a similar uproar disrupted another Three Stripes event in March in Oregon’s biggest city.

Organized by the #PayYourWorkers campaign, the Earth Day demonstration on April 22 occurred just before a panel with and Canopy that aimed to discuss positive change through collaboration between fashion brands and activist groups.

Three hours earlier, the Athletic and Outdoor Professionals Committee presented a SAF panel with Kara Brody, senior sustainability manager at Adidas, and former Adidas employees, Tara Moss, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Unless Collective, and Julie Willoughby, chief scientific officer at Circ. When the panel opened for questions, Brody, pressed about labor disputes, attested to Adidas’ suppliers being verified through a supply chain code of conduct. 

According to #PayYourWorkers, Adidas currently owes over $11.7 million in wages to Cambodian garment workers in eight supplier factories.

The Three Stripes brand reiterated previous comments to Sourcing Journal that it rejects any wage theft and union busting allegations.

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“Throughout the pandemic, Adidas has been committed to ensuring fair labor practices, fair wages and safe working conditions throughout our global supply chain,” an Adidas spokesperson told Sourcing Journal, echoing the statement the company issued last fall. “We continued to uphold our standard manufacturing terms, including worker-rights protection. Ensuring business continuity and a functioning supply chain has kept workers in jobs.”

The Earth Day protest unified environmentalists and community members from the Machinists, Teamsters and Starbucks Workers unions who rallied with Cambodian labor activist Chhorpesal Chhom, one of the 500 garment workers who were laid off and cheated out of severance pay during Covid from Hulu Garment Co. Ltd., a sewing facility that makes Adidas products. 

“Adidas should stop sending managers to panels to sell their product and prioritize paying workers wages that were stolen from [them],” Billy Yates, U.S. director for the #PayYourWorkers campaign, which organized the protest, told Sourcing Journal. “It is important that workers in the U.S. stand in solidarity with workers abroad.” 

While most of the protest was peaceful, a few demonstrators began banging on the windows and doors and attempted to break into the basement of the event’s venue, the EcoTrust in the Pearl District of Portland, a city where crime has taken a heavy toll on retail

In an emailed statement to attendees, the SFF said: “Due to Portland’s unfortunate history of protests and the non-peaceful behavior of some of the members within the demonstration, we chose to prioritize the safety of our community and end the conference early.” 

After the demonstration, the SFF team spoke with protest organizers and invited them to join in on future conversations. They’re currently in ongoing discussions with Remake and to explore meaningful ways to work with labor and activist organizations to amplify underrepresented voices in the fashion industry.

“At SFF we work to bridge the gap between silos and bring people together to foster dynamic conversations that encourage grey area thinking,” the CEO of the Sustainable Fashion Forum, Brittany Sierra said. “I’m optimistic about what lies ahead and am excited for the meaningful conversations that will emerge from this shared experience.”

As for the canceled panel with and Canopy, it will be recorded and added to the SFF Digital Vault, a new online platform Sierra is launching this summer.