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Protestors ‘Shut Down’ Adidas Event

Labor campaigners continue to come out swinging for Adidas over unpaid wages in South and Southeast Asia.

Business Insider reported Thursday that protestors “shut down” a breakfast event in Portland, Ore., featuring Rupert Campbell, the sportswear Goliath’s head of North America. Organized by the Portland Business Journal and hosted at the Sentinel Hotel, the talk was part of a series highlighting the work of local business leaders. Campbell, who previously worked for Adidas in Europe, is now based in the city, where Adidas has established its American HQ.

Three-quarters of the way into the hourlong event, a protestor identified by Business Insider as Billy Yates, U.S. campaign director for the #PayYourWorkers campaign, stood up to demand that Adidas compensate workers who had their wages cut or who were dismissed without their legally owed severance during the coronavirus crisis.

Yates pointed to eight Adidas contractors in Cambodia that “stole” $11.7 million from more than 30,000 workers, amounting to $387 per worker, during the April-May 2021 national lockdown. In Indonesia, he noted, PT Panarub employees who made World Cup gear received only half their wages between June and August 2020 because of suspended orders.

“Adidas, it’s time to pay your workers,” he said as five other campaigners gathered beside him. Campbell exited the stage as the demonstrators unfurled a banner emblazoned with the words “Adidas steals from its workers.”

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“What’s disgusting? Union busting,” the protestors chanted. “No wages, no peace!”

“We cannot just sit here and be quiet and talk about how inclusive Adidas is as a company when garment workers have been reaching out to Adidas for over a year now to get the wages they earned during the pandemic,” Yates said.

Business Insider said that the remaining crowd of 200 people gave the group a standing ovation.

Adidas told Sourcing Journal that it “rejects the allegations.”

“Throughout the pandemic, Adidas has been committed to ensuring fair labor practices, fair wages and safe working conditions throughout our global supply chain,” a spokesperson said. “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. We continued to be committed to ensuring legal compliance in terms of pay and benefits for all workers and tracked the working conditions in each and every factory.”

The incident took place just weeks after Labour Behind the Label “hijacked” multiple advertising spaces in bus stops in Bristol and Manchester to challenge what it described as the German juggernaut’s “woke-washing” during International Women’s Day.

“Adidas use slick marketing campaigns to sell clothes and convince consumers that they support women,” Anna Bryher, advocacy lead at the nonprofit, said at the time. “The truth is workers around the world in Adidas suppliers testify that wages are not enough to support their families and live with dignity.”

This wasn’t the first time Adidas found itself the target of spoofers. In January, prankster activists The Yes Men, working with the Clean Clothes Campaign, forced the former Yeezy collaborator to deny that it had appointed a former Cambodian union leader as its new co-CEO.

Meanwhile, the wave of traditional demonstrations keeps growing. Last October, #PayYourWorkers organized a “global week of action” with protests in 20 cities, including Berlin, Los Angeles, Milan and the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. This was an escalation of the “global day of action” that activists organized on Aug. 18, Adidas’s anniversary.

The Stan Smith maker was also asked to intervene late last year after one of its suppliers, Myanmar Pou Chen, fired more than two dozen workers for leading a protest over low wages and oppressive working conditions. Following multiple rounds of negotiation, the factory ultimately reinstated the dismissed workers or provided severance for those who didn’t want to return.

Boohoo faced a similar disruption at a sourcing show panel in London last month, though the protestors were carted away by security instead of being allowed to stay. The same week, three students demonstrated at the University of Newcastle student union’s “Discover Newcastle” fair, which included Shein as one of its exhibitors.

There are signs the gloves may be coming off, too. In February, garment workers in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka filed an international labor complaint against Nike with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Washington, D.C. In it, they accused the Just Do It firm of violating the inter-governmental organization’s guidelines for responsible business conduct by multinational enterprises.

In spring 2020, the Knight family, Nike’s largest shareholder, reaped $74 million in dividends on Nike stock even as workers who made the brand’s shoes and clothes reported losing an estimated $9.3 million from reduced hours and pay, Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator at the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, which helped coordinate the effort, said at a press event in early March.

“With the money that Nike has made from stock buybacks, they could have paid workers 2,000 times than what we are asking,” she said. “We always prefer dialogue over litigation but if we have to litigate, we will.”