Wisconsin Badgers: Adidas All Out?

Chris KennedyCorrespondent IFebruary 12, 2012

If the University of Wisconsin's Labor Licensing Policy Committee has their way, the Wisconsin Badgers football team, and the rest of the athletic department, will lose their apparel company once again.

The UW athletic department has a contract with Adidas for 2012-13, but that could be in jeopardy due to a recent report by the Worker Rights Consortium. It says Adidas failed to make severance payments to workers at an Indonesian factory that made collegiate apparel, according to JS Online.

This allegation is against the labor code of conduct agreed to by dozens of universities. It requires licensees to agree to operate work places and contract with companies that adhere to certain standards regarding wages and benefits—child labor and health and safety.

It's wise and fair for universities to refuse to do business with apparel companies who exploit their workers. But as with most well-intentioned policies, the UW is self-legislating itself right out of reasonable decisions and practices that could end up hurting the sports teams.

This is not the first time the UW broke it's ties with an apparel company.

They did so with Nike in 2010 as a result of that company's alleged failure to address problems caused by the closing of two Honduran factories, according to The Daily.

In this instance in Indonesia, Adidas should not be held responsible for the severance pay to workers at the closed plant. Imagine this circumstance: You pay a contractor good money to remodel your home. The contractor goes bankrupt after the job, and you find out the workers were not paid a severance payment now that he cannot contract anymore. 

Would you pay his workers the severance payment AFTER you have already paid the contractor for the work on your home?  Where does your reasonable responsibility end?


This is Adidas' predicament.

In theory, you may hope the workers get a severance payment, but if it would come from your real, hard-earned money, would you do it? Most individuals would not.

The Labor Policy committee and the UW need to get real here and understand the tough position Adidas is in.

Do not cloak this as exploitation. It is not.

Little kids were not being whipped and paid slave wages. This was a legitimate Indonesian factory—as best assessed by Adidas, who has plants all over the world—that employed adults and folded due to various factors of mismanagement including abandonment by its owner.

And just to steer clear of possible hypocrisy, I hope the committee members and chancellor David Ward are willing to clear their wardrobe of any Adidas products they personally own. I trust they already trashed all Nike or Russell apparel from their closets the last two years, so the members should be used to it.

The university has contracts allowing more than 500 companies to make products bearing its name or logos. These products are made in over 3,000 factories in 47 countries. Is the committee as adamant about investigating the background of every supplier to the UW?

If Nike and Adidas—the top two collegiate sports apparel suppliers—are out, who is in?

And how long would a new, "approved" company last under this labor code of conduct? Would the quality of the apparel and equipment be up to par?

UW chancellor David Ward needs to ignore the Labor Policy committee's recommendation to break ties with Adidas or the student-athletes will be the ones left out in the cold. What kind of severance would they be paid?