Activists call on adidas investors to protect workers’ rights at AGM

Today (May 11th), as adidas holds their annual general meeting (AGM) for shareholders, activists are uniting globally to call on the sportswear giant to go beyond corporate posturing and take real steps to protect workers’ rights by signing the legally-binding Pay Your Workers Agreement.
Action on 11 May 2023 in Karachi, Pakistan by NTUF and HBWWF

Actions have been taking place in different countries in the run up to the AGM and are happening also today around the world. This includes a demonstration outside the AGM in Germany; protests by garment workers in Cambodia, Bangladesh and Pakistan; solidarity actions in front of adidas stores across the US and Europe; and a protest at the Netherlands headquarter office of adidas’ fourth biggest shareholder, Nassef Sawiris. These live actions will be accompanied by digital actions across social media and an online petition demanding movement from the brand to stop wage theft, severance theft, and union busting in its supply chain. 

This comes at a difficult time for the company as it has reported a fourth quarter operating loss of €724 million and a resulting cut in dividends to shareholders, following the termination of its long-term partnership with Ye (also known as Kanye West), after he made a series of antisemitic comments. The company is also currently facing a class-action lawsuit filed by shareholders, claiming it knew of Ye’s problematic behaviour yet took no steps to mitigate the financial risks of the ongoing partnership. The activists argue that the risks that shareholders should actually be worried about is adidas’ failure to ensure workers are paid what they are owed and their failure to prevent rightful workers’ claims to unpaid wages, severance, and other compensation. 

While the loss marks a drop in adidas’ profit hopes, the company’s revenue in 2022 was €22.5 billion, putting them among the best performing European brands and placing them as the second-best performing sports brand worldwide. This shows that the profit drop can not be used as another excuse to avoid taking real and necessary steps towards protecting garment workers’ rights by signing the Pay Your Workers agreement, committing the brand to actively tackling systemic human rights violations in their global supply chain. The Pay Your Workers agreement is affordable (costing only a fraction of the revenue generated by Yeezy shoes, an amount that could easily be absorbed by adidas in its current financial circumstances) and ensure that cases like that of the Hulu garment workers will be dealt with swiftly in the benefit of both the workers and the company.

Christie Miedema, campaigner for Pay Your Workers, said: "Adidas has a clear responsibility to respect the human rights of its workers, regardless of any profit loss. Adidas didn’t protect its shareholders from the risks associated with partnering with Ye, and it’s failing to protect its workers from the devastating human rights violations in its own supply chain. Adidas pretends to care about women’s empowerment and ethical leadership, but we’re calling out the hypocrisy and ongoing exploitation, and demanding adidas sign the binding Pay Your Workers agreement.”  

Adidas has a history of human rights abuses in its global supply chain and the brand has been linked to numerous cases of wage and severance theft, and abuse of workers’ union rights, violations which rose exponentially during the pandemic. Outstanding cases include more than 500 workers from the Cambodian adidas supplier, Hulu Garment factory, who have been fighting for the $1.1 million they are legally owed in severance pay for over three years; and the recent attacks against workers’ freedom of association at the Pou Chen Myanmar factory, where union members were fired for demanding their rights and, despite being reinstated following a global campaign, there remain ongoing issues with union busting in the factory. 

Chhorpesal Chhom, a former Hulu Garment who is still fighting for the money she is owed, said: “I produced athletic clothing for adidas. I see how expensive these clothes are – one item is higher than my [weekly] wage, including overtime. The price compared to my salary is shocking. My coworkers and I will not stop fighting until adidas pays what they owe us.”

The Pay Your Workers agreement, which is endorsed by 285 organisations around the world, offers adidas a pathway to deal with the endemic violations in its supply chain at the scale needed. This includes paying into a severance guarantee fund to ensure that workers making adidas’ garments who lose their jobs will receive their legal right to severance pay. Activists hope that shareholders will support the demand that CEO Bjørn Gulden, who has had a troubled start to the role since taking the helm in January 2023, invest in workers’ rights by taking the concrete steps needed to make adidas the ethical leader it so wants to be. 

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published 2023-05-11