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Northeastern ends relationship with Adidas following student protests

Posted by Your Town  April 4, 2013 06:31 PM

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Northeastern University officials confirmed that the school will end its relationship with the Adidas apparel and sports equipment company in July, following reports that the company has failed to adequately pay its workers.

Mike Armini, a spokesman for the university, said the school chose to investigate the company's background and ultimately end the relationship after student advocates brought the issue to the attention of various administrators.

The Northeastern decision, first reported by the Huntington News, was solely based on the facts and merits of the situation, Armini said Thursday in a phone interview.

Armini said that Northeastern does not outfit its teams in Adidas apparel, but the company is allowed to print the school logo on its clothing. The university will end this agreement in early July.

Members of the Progressive Student Alliance at Northeastern said they launched a campaign to convince the university to sever ties with Adidas in the winter of 2012, after learning that the company refused to pay severance to workers at an Indonesian factory.

The Worker Rights Consortium, a watchdog organization that investigates the working conditions in factories, reported that Adidas refused to pay severance to more than 2,800 Indonesian workers. The investigation concluded that the owner of PT Kizone, a factory that produces Adidas products, fled Indonesia in January 2011 without paying the workers legally mandated severance.

Adidas has refused to contribute, instead providing a comparatively small amount of shopping vouchers to a local convenience store and sponsoring a job placement program which has only helped a small portion of workers, the report says. The workers have repeatedly rejected the food vouchers as an inappropriate means of compensation.

Eliza Kopetchne, a member of PSA, said they first wrote letters to the administration in early 2012, detailing Adidas mistreatment of its workers. In the fall of 2012 the PSA ramped up the campaign, by handing out flyers and hanging a clothesline on campus with Adidas apparel and signs of protest.

She said that before winter break, members of the PSA went caroling to President Joseph Aoun's office, where they sang traditional carols, but changed the lyrics to reflect how Adidas exploits its workers.

In January, the group orchestrated a flash mob in the student center to raise awareness about the issue.

Armini said that Northeastern administrators agreed to meet with the students this semester to discuss the issue. After reviewing the reports by the Worker Rights Consortium, of which Northeastern is a member, they chose to cut ties with the company.

In a letter written by Northeastern's Vice President and Chief Financial Thomas Nedell to Adidas, he wrote that "while Adidas has taken some commendable action on behalf of the PT Kizone workers, the Northeastern community has been deeply troubled by Adidas's inadequate response, which falls short of the university's expectations for its licensees."

"Accordingly, we have instructed our trademark management representative to take action as soon as practicable, in accordance with the applicable agreements, to discontinue the licensing relationship it maintains on our behalf with Adidas," he wrote. "In light of this decision, we request that Adidas not produce any additional Northeastern branded products at this time."

Nedell wrote that he hopes Adidas will properly address the university's concerns, and "should that occur, Northeastern would be willing to reconsider its business relationship with Adidas in the future."

Kopetchne said that although she is pleased with the university's response, she wants other local colleges that have similar agreements with Adidas to follow suit.

"There are so many other schools in Boston that have adidas contracts," said Kopetchne, an international relations student. "We hope that Northeastern is the first domino to fall."

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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