Outreach in the USA and El Salvador
More than 300 US universities have licensing agreements with the adidas Group to make adidas-branded clothes for students. They all contain obligations spelling out the conditions under which the licensed products are produced.
Engaging with colleges in the USA
In 2007, we engaged with university licensing and labour committees, administrators and student groups at the universities of Wisconsin, Michigan, Notre Dame and UCLA. While many of these engagements were to brief the university communities on our activities, others addressed concerns of student activism. Several licensor universities requested and were given access to the auditing records of factories making their products.
The University of Wisconsin challenged us over our effectiveness in resolving the Hermosa factory case in El Salvador. The Hermosa factory shut suddenly in 2005 owing pay and overtime compensation to 250 workers, and for more than two years has failed to fulfil its legal obligations. Weak enforcement of national labour laws by the El Salvador government has compounded the situation. Although the adidas Group had not placed orders at the factory since 2002, the University of Wisconsin expected us to help resolve the situation.
"If Adidas' system requires this long to resolve even such an obvious case of labor rights violations as Hermosa, that system is obviously broken," said University of Wisconsin’s SLAC member Jan Van Tol in the university newspaper the Badger Herald, 29 October 2007.
Engaging with the government in El Salvador
So what were we doing in El Salvador to try to resolve the situation? Seven months of discussions with government officials had come to an abrupt end in mid-2006. Several emails and phone calls had failed to elicit a response. Our main point of contact in the government was reassigned. And in the meantime, the workers’ economic situation was getting worse. Their rights to receive precedence in bankruptcy settlements had been ignored. And the government was not making good on promises to provide the unemployed workers with the health care coverage to which they were entitled.
So in late October 2007 we took the unusual step of publishing an open letter to the El Salvador government in two national newspapers. In the letter we asked the government to reopen discussions about the Hermosa factory case and to address its failure to enforce its own labour code and indeed the national constitution.
The letter had the desired effect. Our discussions with the El Salvador Ministries of Labour and Economy started up again in December 2007 after a hiatus of more than 12 months. We are hopeful that the ex-employees of Hermosa will finally receive what is rightfully theirs.