The First Domino Falls: Cornell University Cuts Ties With Adidas Over Sweatshop Abuses

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Cornell University today announced it was terminating its eight-year contract with adidas effective October 1st, becoming the first U.S. university in history to cut a contract with the German company over labor rights issues. Cornell’s decision comes nearly a year and a half after PT Kizone, an adidas supplier factory in Indonesia, shut down unexpectedly in April 2011, leaving 2,800 workers without $1.8 million in legally-owed severance that the apparel giant has refused to pay.

“This gap in the apparel industry’s approach to worker rights is a critical issue that demands immediate attention,” said Cornell President David Skorton in the university’s strongly worded termination letter to adidas. “We believe that severance is a basic worker’s right.”

“This is a major national victory,” said Karen Li, a student leader in Cornell Organization for Labor Action, a USAS affiliate. “After campaigning against adidas for over a year, we are proud that Cornell has finally taken action. We hope that other universities will cut their adidas contracts soon.”

Students at the the University of Wisconsin-Madison have also been campaigning for their university to drop its $11 million sponsorship agreement with adidas since last September, but have met a number of obstacles, including an ongoing lawsuit against adidas led by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office. “Chancellor Ward has used legal maneuvers and other tactics to stall on this issue for over a year,” said Lingran Kong, a leader in USAS’ chapter in Madison, the Student Labor Action Coalition. “Cornell’s action reaffirms that our contract with adidas must be terminated now.”

In addition to the unresolved violations at PT Kizone, USAS student leaders have received reports from Central American and Caribbean workers about deteriorating conditions at adidas supplier factories, including stories of anti-union threats at several factories owned by Gildan Activewear, which recently became adidas’ largest supplier in the Western Hemisphere. “adidas’ behavior at PT Kizone is part of a much larger pattern of abusing workers rights,” said Karen Li. “Students across the country are ready to take action when new adidas violations come to light.”