I don’t think there’s anybody who would disagree that UW-Madison has earned a strong progressive reputation. That is why I think the university’s continuing bad business practices, particularly involving alleged adidas’ improper compensation practicses, is especially damaging to its reputation.
In the age of the Internet, and the wake of the Penn State scandal, bad reputations are more damaging than ever. I am not saying the university’s dealings with adidas are anywhere near the scale of the disturbing Penn State incident, but our progressive character makes the issue stand out like a sore thumb. This issue is even more disconcerting having read that the university and adidas will not come to a decision by the April 15 deadline, which was set by the Labor Licensing Policy Committee last month.
For those who may not be up to date on this issue, the dispute comes down to an Indonesian factory contracted by adidas. The factory itself was under investigation for abusive labor practices and eventually closed. Instead of doing the right thing, adidas has refused to pay severance money to up to 2,700 workers affected by the closing.
I find it morally repulsive that a company and a school as rich as adidas and the university, compared to Indonesia, are actively hurting people who can barely afford to feed their own families.
If Wisconsin wants to pursue business practices that create terrible consequences and conditions for low-income workers then we may as well stop pretending we care about progressing both as a school and as a city. Madison has earned so many great feelings towards it from visitors. It would be a shame to have that image tarnished by the greed of a large multinational corporation.
When it comes to the public protests by students and support from local unions, I’m happy to see that there are those who wish to right the wrongs they see. Protesters aren’t the most liked people, and in the aftermath of the Occupy protests they haven’t gained too many more friends, but I truly feel that the Student Labor Action Coalition, along with some local unions, have their hearts in the right place and are only trying to help the problem, not create new ones. Particularly, I feel the show of support from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 171 and South Central Federation of Labor is a great, strong step that will help pressure both the university and adidas into finally ironing out a fair and respectful compromise.
Despite all of this, the university could have avoided the Nike and adidas debacles had they have contracted American-based apparel companies. While the university may stand to lose some revenue from this due to higher production costs, it will save us time and money in the future by avoiding union battles, bad publicity, and fees associated with negotiating and renegotiating contracts like we have to do now. Additionally, I think it’s shameful that adidas and Nike honestly feel they have no obligation to treat their workers with the respect that American unions receive. Honestly, how much money would it cost to pay those workers, who most likely work for a mere fraction of the cost of workers in other parts of the world.
The truth is, it would not cost adidas anything, especially when factoring in their hundreds of millions in profits. Instead, adidas and our university leaders have chosen to stiff hard-working, horribly underpaid workers, while ruining our reputation and costing us time and money, in order to make more money for themselves. To me that’s not what this university should be known for.
Matthew Curry is a junior majoring in political science and environmental studies. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.