Comment: Adidas' worker exploitation must stop now

Ruth Tanner is campaigns and policy director at War on Want
Ruth Tanner is campaigns and policy director at War on Want

Respect for workers' rights and people's basic dignity must be universal. So why should Team GB sponsor Adidas be allowed to get away with the sweatshop conditions of its supplier factories?

By Ruth Tanner

With only weeks left before the London Olympics, more than a million tickets have already been sold and over four billion people are expected to watch the Games on television. But, in the run-up to and during what its promoters call the greatest show on earth, Indonesian workers producing goods for Adidas will earn as little as 34p an hour – far less than a living wage. Some Indonesian factories supplying Adidas do not even pay the legal minimum wage. Employees are verbally abused, slapped in the face and told to lie about their conditions during Adidas factory audits.

These conditions are not unique. In China researchers for the Playfair 2012 campaign found people regularly working from 8am to 11pm. In Sri Lanka researchers found people being forced to work overtime in order to meet production targets. In the Philippines, more than half the workers interviewed said that in order to cover their basic needs they are forced to pawn their ATM cards to loan sharks for high-interest loans. At all of the factories Playfair 2012 researchers visited, workers reported that they were not paid a living wage that covers their basic needs.


This is exploitation. It would never be acceptable for Adidas to treat workers like this here and it should not be OK simply because they source from factories in poorer countries. Respect for workers' rights and people's basic dignity must be universal.
Adidas has spent £100 million on the Olympics, securing its place as the only official sportswear partner. In return for its financial commitment, Adidas hopes to achieve over £100 million in sales from its Olympic clothing lines alone. And, more important, the company hopes to use the boost to its brand from the Olympics to overtake Nike as the UK's sportswear market leader – increasing sales across all of its product lines.

Besides partnership with the Games, Adidas is also the official sponsor of Team GB and a range of high profile British athletes, including David Beckham, the 2009 world champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis, tennis player Andy Murray and the current women's 400 metre Olympic gold medal holder Christine Ohuruogu.

For the London Games there are 25 official corporate sponsors and another 28 official corporate suppliers across industries as diverse as food, cars, banking and electronics. However, the Olympics are of particular significance to the global sportswear industry, where sponsorship of the Games, individual teams or athletes is worth hundreds of millions of pounds and is vital to maintaining a company's brand image. For multinational sportswear companies, the Olympics represent a unique opportunity to market their goods to worldwide audiences and to associate their brands with the spirit of the Games. Not only do the Olympic Games offer a chance for sportswear companies to adorn athletes with their logos in front of an audience of up to four billion people, it is the association with the Olympic values of human achievement, fair play and respect that are worth most to brand image.

However, the "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" set out in the Olympic charter is far from reality for the workers producing Adidas goods. More than 775,000 workers in 1,200 factories across 65 countries make Adidas goods - almost all of these jobs are outsourced. But, through its code of conduct and relationships with suppliers, Adidas has enormous influence over their working conditions, and ultimately their lives.

Adidas can end the appalling exploitation of workers in its supply chains. It must require the company's suppliers to pay a living wage, covering basic essentials like housing, food, healthcare and education. It must ensure that all factories provide decent working conditions for all their workers and guarantee a positive environment for trade union organising throughout supply chains, Workers must be free to organise to secure their rights, without fear of repression or harassment. Now that would be an Olympic legacy worth celebrating.

Ruth Tanner is campaigns and policy director at War on Want, which is seeking to highlight the reality of life for workers making Adidas goods.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Adidas' response: We're exceeding standards set by the Olympic Games

"The adidas Group is fully committed to protecting worker rights and to ensuring fair and safe working conditions in factories throughout our global supply chain.

"As part of that commitment, we have been engaging in an open and constructive dialogue with various NGOs for years. To that end, we recently contacted War on Want on two separate occasions to discuss the allegations made in their last report but we are yet to hear back from them on this.

"However, we take all allegations about working conditions extremely seriously and will investigate any new claims immediately. But it is very important to note that we found no evidence to support claims made in a previous War on Want report about factory conditions in Bangladesh. In fact, the report contained several inaccuracies, including the suggestion that adidas manufactures 2012 Olympic products in Bangladesh, which we absolutely do not. We also requested the details of the workers they had highlighted in the report in order to investigate the allegations, but these have not been provided.

"With regard to the allegations made by Play Fair, adidas Group strongly disputes many of the claims made in that report. To be clear, only four of the 10 factories highlighted make adidas licensed Olympic product. adidas has not worked with the MAS Linea Aqua factory in Sri Lanka since January 2008 and no Olympic product has been made there, nor in its sister factory MAS Linea Intimo.

"adidas is the only London Olympic licensee to fully disclose our production locations and we are confident that we are adhering to and, in fact, exceeding the high standards which the organising committee has set for this, the first Sustainable Olympic Games.

"For a more detailed response to the Play Fair report and the allegations made about working conditions in Indonesia and Bangladesh, visit http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/News/."

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