By Zolan Kanno-Youngs, News Correspondent
Northeastern officially cut its ties with the athletic apparel and equipment company Adidas last week, following a campaign against sweatshops driven by the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA).
The PSA initiative began after the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) – an organization that Northeastern, as well as many other universities, is a part of – issued a report revealing workers’ rights violations in the PT Kizone, an Adidas factory in Indonesia.
“2,686 workers were denied $3.4 million in legally mandated compensation, beginning on September 3, 2010,” reads the report issued May 15, 2012 by the WRC. “As we have previously reported, after partial payments by several buyers, the workers are still owed US$1.8 million.”
Once the report came out, PSA immediately started to write letters to President Joseph E. Aoun and the Northeastern administration as part of its anti-sweatshop campaign. To raise awareness among the student body, members coordinated activities like caroling to relay information through songs about the violations the company made, and held a candlelight vigil for the workers affected.
“That definitely speaks a lot to the student power on campus because this wasn’t done unless students brought it up and pushed for it,” middler cultural anthropology and co-chair of PSA’s anti-sweatshop campaign Daniela Gonzalez said.
After months of hard work, the student group finally had a meeting with the administration earlier this semester in which they expressed the importance of the WRC report and how crucial immediate action against the company would be.
PSA’s action prompted Northeastern to review Adidas and the university’s ties to the company.
The campaign’s effort proved to be worth it after the university sent a letter to Adidas on March 27 requesting the company not produce any Northeastern branded products.
“While Adidas has taken some commendable action on behalf of the PT Kizone workers, the Northeastern community has been deeply troubled by persistent reports of Adidas’s inadequate response, which falls far short of the university’s expectations for its licenses,” read the letter written by Northeastern Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Thomas Nedell to Bob Leuenberger, an Adidas representative.
But a revival of the relationship between Northeastern and Adidas is still possible in the future, according to the letter.
“We remain hopeful that Adidas, as an industry leader, will align its stated commitment to sustainable operations by properly addressing the concerns about workers’ rights. Should that occur, Northeastern would be willing to reconsider its business relationship with Adidas in the future,” the letter stated.
Adidas has since issued a statement that included this excerpt: “The Adidas Group is committed to ensuring fair labor practices, fair wages and safe working conditions in factories throughout our global supply chain. These active efforts are guided by our core values as a company. Importantly, the Adidas Group is confident that we are adhering to and, in fact, exceeding standards our stakeholders expect from us on these matters.”
No Northeastern athletic teams are outfitted by the Adidas brand. However, that does not necessarily mean Adidas does not make money off of the Northeastern brand and name.
“Currently there is apparel, maybe shirts or other kinds of garments, that have the Northeastern logo on it and it’s manufactured by Adidas,” Mike Armini, the senior vice president of external affairs said. “What we decided to do based on a review of the facts is not have any Northeastern logos or trademarks on Adidas apparel.”
That means no more Adidas sweatpants or hoodies in the Northeastern bookstore as soon as July 1, when the discontinuation of the relationship will come into effect.
More costly to Adidas will be Northeastern cutting ties with Adidas-owned Reebok, which currently outfits the Northeastern baseball team.
“It’s kind of like thinking about it on a bigger scale,” Gonzalez said. “If individual people want to wear Adidas that’s fine. I personally don’t because that’s my personal decision, but I don’t judge people who do. It’s more so thinking about how can we make this effective and strategic.”
Athletes will still be able to wear Adidas gear in games if they choose to buy it themselves, Armini said.
Northeastern is the ninth school to cut ties with Adidas in the last year. Rutgers University, Georgetown University, the College of William & Mary, Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University, Oberlin College, the University of Washington and Santa Clara University have all ended relations with the company, according to the website badidas.com, which aims to highlight alleged workers’ rights infractions.
Just like Northeastern, all of those schools have been able to raise awareness of the worker violations through student groups on campus.
“Universities exist because of students. What is a university without students? No longer a university,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really important for students to realize that and come together with that in mind and understand it’s our university and it’s our name that’s being printed on these sweaters being made.”