UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward decided to enter a negotiation period with adidas out of fear that giving the company a 90-day ultimatum to remedy its alleged labor violations would result in the company suing the university, according to Labor Licensing Policy Committee Chair Lydia Zepeda.
For the past two weeks, members of UW-Madison’s primary licensing advisory committee have criticized Ward’s decision to disregard its recommendation to give adidas 90 days’ notice. This strategy, LLPC members said, would pressure the company to pay workers laid off from an Indonesian factory contracted by adidas that closed in 2011.
In an e-mail to Zepeda Feb. 14, UW-Madison’s Senior Legal Counsel Brian Vaughan said adidas contested the applicability of the code of conduct—which outlines a company’s responsibilities in dealing with workers, factories and suppliers—to the issue of severance pay. Under such “unique” situations, Vaughan said the university is contractually obligated to mediate with the contesting party.
Zepeda said in recent discussions with Ward, however, the chancellor offered a different motive for the decision. According to her, Ward said adidas threatened to sue the university if it gave the company 90 days’ notice.
Zepeda and other members of the committee said putting adidas on notice would further pressure the company to pay its workers. But Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney said Tuesday the effectiveness of that strategy is up for debate.
“It’s all speculation as to what will resolve it the quickest and that’s what the chancellor has to decide,” Sweeney said. “You’re not going to get 100 percent agreement often times, but he’s in consultation with lots of people to try and do the right thing to get the right and quickest resolution.”
The university said Ward would not accept interviews on the subject and Sweeney could not be reached for a response to Zepeda’s allegations after business hours Thursday.
According to Student Labor Action Coalition Chair Jonah Zinn, adidas said in a statement that to follow the code of conduct, it is only required to end its relationship with the offending factory, not to remedy the violations.
“Instead of requiring the brand to fix these situations or requiring the brand to be responsible for the violations that happened, they say all they have to do, according to this contract, is leave,” Zinn said. “It’s just a complete violation of the spirit of the code.”
He said if UW-Madison gave adidas 90 days’ notice, the company would sue the university for applying the code of conduct incorrectly.
Zepeda said in various documents adidas has affirmed that it has a policy that it does not provide severance pay to workers. Because of this, she said she does not understand what the chancellor is expecting to accomplish through mediation with the company.
Mirroring Zepeda, Zinn said because adidas’ policies make it clear it will not concede to UW’s demands while mediating, the university should remain firm in giving adidas notice despite facing a possible court case.
“What it comes down to is we need to stand up for not just these workers, but also our contract,” he said. “If we’re not going to enforce it, what good is it? If adidas is not going to play ball and wants to be so sovereign on it, then I don’t think we should be afraid of going toe to toe with them.”