Could Michigan move on from Adidas due to worker rights violations?

Jonathan Daniel

The apparel giant is currently in hot water due to a controversy over the company's failure to fulfill its obligations in the aftermath of the closure of an Indonesian factory, and it is losing support from NCAA programs, including Michigan.

The shoe industry has a history of issues with worker rights violations in the east, and the latest controversy has put Adidas in a tough position vis a vis some of its biggest clients.

A recent ESPN business article (don't worry, this one isn't Rovell) outlines what has been going on. An Indonesian factory, PT Kizone, that had supplied merchandise for both Nike and Adidas recently shut down after a tumultuous few years where the Workers Rights Consortium alleged a number of violations. The factory closed its doors after going bankrupt. From there, Adidas was to compensate workers in accordance with the terms of its agreement with the plant:

The WRC, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and other worker rights advocacy groups claimed adidas was refusing to pay $1.8 million in legally mandated severance owed to the 2,800 workers of PT Kizone. Total severance and other pay due under Indonesian law to the workers, who had no advance notice of the factory's closure, totaled $3.3 million. Both Nike and the Dallas Cowboys contributed partial severance, but for nearly two years, adidas has maintained it does not owe any of the monies.

Once these allegations came out, it led to a mass exodus of schools from Adidas' books, 17 schools in total, including Rutgers and Washington.

Michigan, being Adidas' largest college contract, also had some issues with the situation. School president Mary Sue Coleman has been dealing with the issue since last year, and amid pressure from various student groups and worker rights coalitions, Adidas was finally forced to pay up in an undisclosed settlement.

While this seems to put to rest this issue, the larger one of how Michigan will move forward in 2015 at the expiration of the current contract remains to be seen. This isn't the first issue the school has had with Adidas, but it may be the most important.

While the quality of uniforms has been poor -- look at the mismatched uniforms for the football team and the long history of both football and basketball uniforms tearing during game play -- that in and of itself probably isn't enough to push MIchigan one way or another. Furthermore, Dave Brandon has been very happy with the design of a number of alternate football uniforms.

However, the stain of a worker rights violation could ultimately be a deciding factor that goes above the head of Dave Brandon all the way to Coleman's office. If Michigan fancies itself a progressive institution dedicated to human rights and fair treatment, Adidas may not be the apparel company that fits best (does this make Nike the lesser of two evils? Possible).

However, if Michigan is firmly in the corner of the Zubaz revival I have just three words for Dave Brandon and Mary Sue Coleman:

Stay the course.

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