While it might be hard for many of us to accept or to understand the severity of the issues faced by workers across the globe, there are many who are forced to endure harrowing, inhumane conditions for the sake of producing some of our most beloved goods.
Anyone who has sat in a history class or read a newspaper knows that, unfortunately, sweatshops exist throughout the world. And while we know that this does occur, it’s hard for many of us to imagine just what happens at these sweatshops because many are located in countries thousands of miles away from us.
Some of these workers have bridged the gap in communication and traveled to Penn State on several occasions in the past to inform students of the terrible working conditions that take place abroad. The latest visit was as recent as last month.
Two former Indonesian sweatshop workers came to Penn State several weeks ago to talk with students about hardships at their job at Adidas. They said that they haven’t received proper severance, which is often granted to employees upon their termination, according to United State Department of Labor. After hearing from the workers, the Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops met with President Rodney Erickson and other administrators on Tuesday to ask the university to drop cut ties with Adidas. Those ties include a small licensing contract between Adidas and Penn State. Other universities have already cut ties with Adidas, including Cornell University, Rutgers University and Georgetown University.
To students involved in USAS, terminating the contract would mean Penn State would be upholding its code of conduct with the Collegiate Licensing Company, which works to improve workplace conditions in the world.
While it is unclear how Penn State will respond to the student group’s meeting, a willingness to at least hear concerns is encouraging — though Penn State shouldn’t let its corporate ties prevent it from taking a stand. The university told The Daily Collegian that the group’s proposal would be take to other administrators to review but noted that Penn State was not convinced that Adidas had breached the workplace code of conduct. Maybe it is true that no real violations were made in the code.
Still, it’s clear that —at some level — the employees are deeply concerned about their working conditions, and an institution like Penn State, especially joined with others, shouldn’t overlook its ability to force Adidas to rethink its approach.
It would be in Penn State’s best interest to send a clear message of supporting ethical standards — and terminating its contract with Adidas, or even taking a strong stance by publicly demanding that the company address workers’ concerns, would do that.