Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops — in an effort to have Penn State drop its contract with Adidas because of potential injustices to employees — met with President Rodney Erickson and other administrators on Tuesday.
Penn State has a small licensing contract with Adidas, USAS member Lili Hadsell said, and cutting the contract would mean Penn State would be upholding its code of conduct with the Collegiate Licensing Company.
The CLC works to improve workplace conditions in the world, according to the CLC’s website.
Hadsell (junior-women’s studies and English) said that since workers in Indonesia have communicated to her group that they have not received some severance pay from Adidas, the company is in violation of the code, and, as a result, Penn State should cut its ties with Adidas.
Severance pay is often given to employees when they leave their job, and the amount of pay depends on how long they have been working at the company, according to the U.S. Department of Labor
Moyo Akinade, a USAS member who attended the meeting, said the university’s continued contract with Adidas is not in line with Penn State’s ethical standards.
“The Board of Trustees and Erickson have made a commitment to high standards of ethical conduct,” Akinade (junior- human geography and geographic information systems) said. “If Penn State refuses to cut the contract, I think the university should be able to state [other] ethical standards to what ground we should act.”
Akinade said there are many reasons that the university might be hesitant to cut its contract, one of them being that there is a conflict of interest between two other organizations.
Penn State is affiliated with the Workers Rights Consortium, Akinade said, and the consortium’s job is to go to factories and make sure there are no violations or transgressions against human rights.
Akinade said Penn State is also affiliated with the Fair Labor Association and the association has not seen any violations in the sweatshops. But Adidas funds FLA, so Akinade said it makes sense that it would say there are no violations.
“The administration’s stance is since there is a conflict of interest between WRC and FLA, Penn State shouldn’t yet make a decision because the situation is too ambiguous,” Akinade said.
Akinade said USAS’ stance is different than the administration’s. Earlier this month, two former Indonesian sweatshop workers visited Penn State to talk with students about hardships at their job, and how they haven’t received proper severance. Akinade said this is proof that there is a problem within sweatshops and these companies.
“Our stance is since workers are coming all the way from Indonesia to talk to us, there must be an issue,” Akinade said.
Daniel Sieminski, associate vice president for finance and business and one of the administrators in the meeting, wrote in an email that USAS was well organized in its position to have Penn State cancel the contract.
“Discussion was free flowing and cordial, and I restated the university’s position that we were not convinced that Adidas has breached the workplace code of conduct,” Sieminski said. “While factory owners are responsible for severance payments, those placing orders with a factory (in this case Adidas) are not responsible for severance payments.”
Sieminski said Erickson will take USAS’ proposal to other top level administrators to determine how to proceed.
Another USAS member Mitchell Cunningham said the administrators in the meeting were willing to hear USAS members out, adding that to him, there seemed to be a possibility of dropping the contract, even though no decisions have been made.
“There were definitely certain members of administration that weren’t very on our side at first, but I think President Erickson definitely wanted to learn more about what was happening and I think by the end there was a possibility of cutting contract with Adidas,” Cunningham (senior-premedicine) said.
Hadsell said Penn State has a deadline of March 13 to decide whether it will cut the contract. If Penn State cuts its contract, it would be the eighth school to do so.
Penn State similarly cut its contract with Russell Athletic when schools started campaigning in 2008 that Russell was not treating workers fairly in its factories.
Hadsell said Penn State put Russell Athletic on probation before officially cutting the contract in the hopes that the company would change its treatment of workers, but Hadsell said that did not work. Hadsell said USAS members do not want Penn State to take the same approach with Adidas this year.
“Contract cuts are the most efficient and the only way [the companies] will change,” Hadsell said. “We want Penn State to hold all its companies and the people we do business with to high standards regarding respecting human rights.”