GU Still Investigating Labor Abuse Claims
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 02:04
Despite the Georgetown Solidarity Committee’s protests last Wednesday, the university has not yet responded to alleged labor rights abuses by the apparel company adidas.
In a letter released Thursday, Scott Fleming, associate vice president for federal relations and public affairs and interim chair of Georgetown’s Licensing Oversight Committee, announced that the university will continue exploring questions regarding the licensing agreement with adidas and the university’s code.
The LOC met with adidas’ Head of Social and Environmental Affairs Gregg Nebel last Tuesday to discuss the company’s alleged failure to pay $1.8 million in severance fees to employees after the closure of its PT Kizone plant in Indonesia.
In the meeting, Nebel assured the university that adidas would offer aid to employees who had lost their jobs but that, as a policy, adidas does not contribute to severance payments.
But GSC member and protest coordinator Samuel Geaney-Moore (SFS ’12) described adidas’ approach as “Orwellian” and said that no amount of aid would provide the workers with the money they are owed.
“[adidas is] clearly trying to avoid paying the $1.8 million they owe under the law and under the Licensing Code of Conduct,” he said.
According to a November 2011 letter sent by labor rights monitoring organization the Worker Rights Consortium, Nike and Green Textile, which also used the plant, offered about $1.5 million in workers’ compensation.
The letter went on to say that adidas refused to contribute, instead promising to help workers find jobs at other factories.
“The contrast between Nike’s response and adidas’ is nonetheless very important to note. Nike disclosed the non-payment of severance, accepted responsibility under university codes and made very substantial payments to workers in order to remedy the violations,” the consortium wrote in an assessment released this January. “adidas did not disclose the violations, denied responsibility and refuses to pay anything.”
According to LOC and GSC member Louisa Abada (COL ’12), 300 of the 900 workers who were re-employed have already lost their new jobs.
Georgetown’s Code of Conduct for Licensees says that the university is obligated to take the necessary steps to immediately correct workers’ rights-related violations and has the option to terminate licensee contracts if the problem remains unfixed.
“It is an issue of concern to the university, and we are continuing to explore questions surrounding our licensing agreement with adidas and our Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees in light of the situation these workers face,” Fleming wrote in an email.
While the LOC plans to arrange a follow-up meeting with Nebel, the university’s counsel and the Collegiate Licensing Company, a date has not been announced.
According to Fleming, Georgetown is waiting to see other universities’ reactions to the alleged violations, particularly the University of Wisconsin’s, the clothing for which was also made in the PT Kizone factory.
“Since we are a relatively small part of adidas’ business, it is unclear that a termination by Georgetown would have significant impact on changing their response to situations like this,” he wrote. “Considering … the outcome of [adidas’] ongoing mediation with the University of Wisconsin and how other institutions are responding could result in [Georgetown’s decision’s] having more impact.”
But Geaney-Moore criticized the university’s delayed reaction.
“A clear violation of the code of conduct is plenty legal justification to end our contract with adidas,” he said. ” We feel that the university is a leader on anti-sweatshop issues, and with all due respect to Wisconsin, Georgetown should be the university that steps up when licensees violate our Code of Conduct.”
Fleming reassured the GSC that the university’s ultimate decision will abide by the code’s standards.
“We are anxious to learn the outcome of [the University of Wisconsin’s] negotiations while preserving our ability to influence adidas’ policies in this regard,” he wrote.