Speaking Up Against Unfair Labor Practices
When the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia went out of business in January 2011, 2,800 people lost their jobs. Most of the factory’s international clients fulfilled obligations to pay into a $3.4 million severance pool for the workers. One company that did not is sports apparel maker Adidas. As of mid-December, Adidas had refused to pay $1.8 million dollars owed to the workers.
Now, following student protests and petition campaigns, a number of U.S. schools have ended their contracts with the company, citing unfair labor practices.
Cornell University (N.Y.), Rutgers University (N.J.) and the University of Washington have dropped the Adidas brand. “By taking the position that it had no responsibility for severance payments to its supplier’s former workers, Adidas falls short of the university’s expectations for its licensees,” said University of Washington President Michael Young in a statement.
The contracts tend to be relatively small—a U Washington spokesman said theirs was worth about $100,000, while Rutgers earned $11,000 in fees from Adidas last year—but the University of Michigan deal is worth some $60 million. However, these schools are among the 180 U.S. institutions affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor-rights monitoring group.
Their contracts mandate that brands pay “all applicable back wages found due to workers who manufactured the licensed articles.” If this obligation isn’t met, a school has the right to terminate the contract. And students are pressuring them to do so.
This is just the latest example in a long tradition of social activism on campus. And, regardless of political leanings, it is the tradition on which our country was founded. From protests over the McCarthy-era trials of alleged communist professors, to the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 60s, the anti-nuke protests of the 70s, and present day protests about climate change and economic inequity, social activism has long been part of the fabric of higher education in the United States. When colleges and students see injustice, they speak up rather than remain silent. That’s a big part of what helps keep a free nation free.
So, kudos to the students for speaking up on this important issue but, more importantly, bravo to the universities for honoring their end of the agreement.
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