This week Cornell decided to terminate its contract with Adidas over the company's treatment of nearly 3,000 Indonesian workers. Adidas is refusing to pay any of the $3.3 million legally owed to the workers after the factory PT Kizone closed in January 2011.
The Sun commends Cornell and President David Skorton for terminating the contract and standing up for the workers’ rights. Of particular note is the fact that Cornell is the first college to terminate a contract with Adidas over this incident.
If this was an instance where the employees might still benefit from Cornell maintaining its contract with Adidas, than we might argue that Cornell ought to find more creative ways of pressuring the company and its subcontractors. However, considering that the issue at hand involves workers who have already lost their jobs, we are happy to see that the administration took blunt action.
Cornell and other universities have a great deal of power when it comes to pressuring companies to change their behavior. We hope that the ultimate result of the Adidas decision will be similar to Cornell’s severance of its contract with Nike in 2010, in an attempt to resolve a similar labor dispute in Honduras. That case was successfully resolved and ended with Nike accepting responsibility for the actions of its subcontractors and establishing a $1.5 million relief fund for laid off employees.
In the case with Nike, Cornell was one of several universities that severed its contract. In order for the University’s actions to be ultimately successful, and to ensure that the former employees of PT Kizone get justice, other universities need to follow suit. Administrators should communicate their decision and its rationale to other universities and encourage them to sever their contracts as well.
The Sun is also pleased with the continued success of the Cornell Licensing Oversight Committee, which made the initial recommendation to President Skorton to cancel the contract. The Committee, which is comprised of faculty, administrators, students and staff, now has a handful of successful actions under its belt and is establishing itself as an impressively prudent advocate of labor rights on campus.
Along with the announcement of Cornell’s break with Adidas, the University joined the Workers’ Rights Consortium’s Designated Suppliers Program. Members of the DSP are required to have their licensees buy apparel from supplier factories that are “in compliance with their obligation to respect the rights of their employees” and pay a “living wage.” This is a step forward in Cornell’s progression as an institution that works to ensure all the stakeholders in its supply chain are treated ethically.
While it is still of the utmost importance that the administration and students continue to be leaders in advocating for workers’ rights, the successes of the past few years — and the previous week in particular — are heartening.