For the second time in a year, adidas has been hit by a major hoax by Yes Men activists parodying the company’s wanting stance towards workers in its supply chain. At the Web Summit in Lisbon, the world’s biggest tech conference, activists impersonating adidas representatives announced that the company would start paying its workers in virtual currency so that they could enjoy luxuries in a virtual “adiVerse” that are inaccessible to them in the real world.
During Berlin Fashion Week in 2023, these same activists released a false statement from adidas announcing that its new CEO would appoint a former garment worker as co-CEO. This statement included the suggestion that adidas would move to sign the Pay Your Workers - Respect Labour Rights agreement, legally binding the company to compensate and safeguard workers and their rights.
“Adidas spending considerable amounts of money to make up an alternative currency and virtual universe to avoid paying its garment workers what they are owed is not that far from the truth. The reality might be even darker: adidas has spent hundreds of millions sponsoring FIFA’s Qatar debacle, while ignoring the rightful claims of workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, and elsewhere to the money they are owed,” said Billy Yates, US director of the Pay Your Workers campaign.
The German company is being targeted by activists of the Pay Your Workers campaign for its failure to ensure that workers were paid in full during the pandemic. A 2021 report by Swiss organisation Public Eye highlighted adidas as worst offender in the field of pandemic era wage theft, with over USD $11 million in back wages owed to garment workers. Workers at the Hulu Garment factory in Cambodia who made adidas clothes have been fighting for more than $1 million in stolen severance pay since April 2020.
“Adidas likes to market itself as a progressive force, but it clearly does not care about the women of colour in its supply chain. Time and time again, it has failed its workers: allowing the Hulu Garment workers to be tricked into resigning without pay, allowing other garment workers to be paid only partial wages, and failing to ensure that all of the workers making its product are paid bare minimum wages." said Christie Miedema, campaigns and outreach coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign.
In a world where the climate crisis is likely to again be offloaded on the most vulnerable, workers need the safety net of the Pay Your Workers agreement to be sure they will not be left penniless in the next crisis and can organise to stand up for their own rights through the collective power of unions.
The actions by the Yes Men do not happen in a vacuum. Since 2022, unions and labour rights organisations around the world have repeatedly written letters and staged protests urging adidas to sign the Pay Your Workers agreement. In August this year, garment workers in Indonesia turned up at the local adidas office with a text saying “Cut the cake, not the wage.” In May, representatives of the campaign urged the company to finally ensure workers are made whole from the stage at its AGM in Germany as well as during store protests in Pakistan, Cambodia, Poland, and elsewhere.
“Adidas often points at the difficult year it had after its break with Ye, but that pales in comparison to the hardship faced by the PT Panarub workers in Indonesia who made Yeezy shoes and lost their jobs. Though adidas has gained back moral credit by its decision to donate part of the profits to anti-discriminatory causes, the main chunk of the revenue has served to improve the company’s financial numbers for 2023. In May, together with three other unions we called on adidas to spend 2-3% of the tainted Yeezy revenue to make workers whole. We have received no response,” said Kalpona Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation in Bangladesh.
The Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights coalition consists of 285 unions, labour and human rights organisations and many other entities in over 50 countries. By signing the Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights agreement, adidas would commit to:
- Settle outstanding wage payments to workers in their supply chain for the COVID-19 period;
- Make sure workers are never again left penniless if their factory goes bankrupt, by signing onto a negotiated severance guarantee fund; and
- Protect workers’ right to organise and bargain collectively.