Billy Yates

Billy (22), student and activist, has been actively involved in pressuring some of the biggest brands in the world.
“The Kizone case has been a landmark for international cooperation and solidarity.”


Billy Yates
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)
University of Texas, Austin
4th year International Relations
Involved with USAS since freshman year

“United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a nationally coordinated organisation to support workers on our campus, for example canteen workers and cleaners. We also support workers overseas in factories that produce sportswear for college teams. This collegiate apparel is a million dollar business, especially with the football and basketball teams. Sponsorship agreements of up to $60 million dollars a year give brands such as Adidas the exclusive rights to outfit college athletes.

We decided to take on the Kizone case from Indonesia, because it represented a gross injustice and Adidas is a huge player in collegiate apparel. We also wanted to bring the issue of severance payments to the attention of consumers, as it is an increasingly common problem in the garment industry, with brands sidelining responsibility to pay severance, and many people here do not understand it yet.

I think the worker tours we organised were very useful. Two workers from the Kizone factory visited the US, and were able to confront Adidas America's headquarters here and see for themselves how much the clothes they made are sold for here. The 2,800 workers at the Kizone factory were fighting to get the severance pay owed to them following the closure of the factory. Despite its Code of Conduct, Adidas was ignoring the situation of the workers. Through our actions we got universities to reconsider their contracts with Adidas, leading to 17 contracts being cut or not renewed. No doubt this has contributed to the pressure they felt about the severance pay for Kizone's workers.

We were successful because we were able to work together with allies, and because we have media leverage. We'd put the news about store actions in Europe and actions in Indonesia in our press releases here. Everyone was able to push where they could.

The best way to improve conditions in the garment industry is to support labour movements. Consumers play a central role. Brands of course are usually more powerful, but when we get organised, they might have to do something they never thought they'd have to do – such as paying those workers in Indonesia.

My mother came to the US from the Philippines as an undocumented migrant. That's why I became interested in the situation of undocumented workers. I became very involved in organising for labour actions.

Big brands continually use corporate responsibility (CSR) language to distance themselves from subcontractors. But the Kizone case shows that consumers cannot be fooled endlessly any more. But there are many issues that we still need to address, and brands have the big money that students, workers and consumers do not have. That's why international cooperation is essential to achieve success. The Kizone case has been a landmark for international cooperation and solidarity.”