Open union letter to adidas CEO about the sale of the Yeezy shoes

In response to adidas' announcement on May 19th, 2023 to start selling its stock of Yeezy shoes starting tomorrow, May 31st, the unions united in the Pay Your Workers - Respect Labour Rights union committee have written an open letter to adidas' CEO Bjørn Gulden welcoming the decision to use parts of the profits for good, but also urging him to dedicate another part of the profits to compensating workers for lost wages and severance.
CCAWDU and other Cambodian unions supporting the Pay Your Workers campaign protesting in front of an adidas store

Dear Mr. Gulden,

We, the undersigned unions, have read your recent announcement regarding Adidas’ decision to sell Yeezy shoes and donate the profits to organisations combating discrimination and hate. We welcome this decision, but knowing the high value that the Yeezy shoes represent, we urge you to also consider dedicating a small amount of the proceeds to the workers harmed in the process of producing these shoes. Many of us represent workers in the adidas supply chain.

Workers, including those producing shoes for Adidas, have suffered greatly during the Covid pandemic. Wages were left unpaid during lockdowns and workers who lost their jobs often did not receive severance pay. We tried to negotiate with our employers to receive our back wages and owed severance, but on top of everything, repression of basic trade union rights is also increasing.

We believe adidas can make a significant difference in the lives of workers who make your products if you use part of the Yeezy shoe sales profits for a ten year commitment of your company to the Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights (PYW-RLR) agreement. It is our understanding that the value of the shoes is estimated at 1.3 billion USD (1.2 billion Euro). The current annual fee estimated for the PYW-RLR agreement for Adidas would be less than three percent of this amount.

The PYW-RLR agreement is intended to cover Covid-related wage and severance theft, and create a global guarantee fund for severance theft going forward. Severance theft is a long-standing problem in the garment, footwear and textile industry, and the current financial and economic crises in many of our countries mean that workers continue to be at risk of losing their jobs without their legally owed compensation and being driven even further into poverty and debt. The PYW-RLR agreement would ensure that workers in adidas’ supply chain are no longer left destitute when their factories shut down or carry out mass layoffs without paying terminal compensation. The agreement also foresees a mechanism to investigate and address violations of the right to organise and bargain collectively, so that we can have stronger and better industrial relations.

We want to negotiate directly with you, the decision-maker at the top of the supply chain, and are open to any suggestions you may have on this proposed agreement. As you know, there have already been three meetings between your company representatives and the PYW-RLR union committee. We believe the current situation regarding Yeezy shoes provides a unique and crucial opportunity to advance the conversation, and to reach agreement quickly.

It is appreciated and recognised that adidas’ aim is to rectify wrongs resulting from its past cooperation with Ye. We urge you to take the next step and extend the remediation to those who made the products that are now being sold for charity. Only then can you ensure that this gesture to do good is not rooted in another injustice.

On behalf of the Union Pay Your Workers - Respect Labour Rights (RLR) Committee

Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, Bangladesh

Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, Cambodia

Free Trade Zones & General Service Employees Union, Sri Lanka

Workers United, USA


The original open letter is available on the Pay Your Workers website.

published 2023-05-30