the Selena Gomez–– does indeed support sweatshops.
Wednesday night at the height of NYC fashion week craze, United Students Against Sweatshops and supporters crashed the NEO by Adidas runway show, specifically to target their’ newest brand ambassador, Selena Gomez. The protest garnered much needed attention to the issue of workers rights, brand responsibility, and celebrity endorsements.
The dispute? Adidas owes $1.8 million in severance pay to 2,800 garment workers. In April 2011, the apparel factory PT Kizone officially stopped production in Tangerang, Indonesia. Upon its closure, the contracted labor was owed over $3.4 million in “mandatory terminal compensation” by companies like Nike, Dallas Cowboys Merchandising and yes of course, Adidas.
Since 2011, Adidas remains the only company that refuses to pay the workers. Instead, the company thought it would be cute to give the workers food vouchers to make up for their loss of employment. However the workers were offended by their lack of financial compliance stating in a letter that, “food vouchers won’t keep our children in school, nor our families in our homes.” Adding injury to insult, Adidas found another way to spend their money that year. A sponsorship at the 2012 London Olympics which raised their revenue by 11% globally.
The German based global sports brand has denied financial responsibility in more lies than one. Adidas states “that it has no obligation to contribute financially in cases where its contract suppliers fail to pay workers money they are legally owed.” This, of course, doesn’t hold any weight legally but does allude to a persisting problem of capitalism. We continue to think of responsibility in linear terms. Corporate executives continue to think that the further away they are from the workers, the less responsible they are for their well being.
In response to this ongoing labor dispute, the USAS campaign is about brand responsibility. Brand responsibility means that the Adidas is publicly accountable to their customers. Brand responsibility also means that representatives such as Selena Gomez become the face of labor violations. The relationship between sweatshops and Adidas is clear and the relationship between Adidas and Selena Gomez is even clearer.
One USAS member at the NEO runway action, William Anderson states,
We live in a time where if we are not connected to our consumption, we are compliant with Adidas in abusing worker’s rights. Adidas had “no comment” when we did the action because they know we are not fabricating anything. Part of being a human being is having a conscious about the things we choose to take part in, buy, or support. We’re simply asking people to do what’s right here.
USAS is not new to labor organizing. In 2009, the organization won a victory when Russell Athletics agreed to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras after attempting to close a factory on the brink of unionizing. CEO of Russell Athletics was forced to sit down at the decision table with labor leaders who essentially are at “the bottom of the corporate ladder.” This direct line of communication between worker and executive set a precedence of changing power relations.
The coalition of students and workers goes beyond sweatshops. Even models, who are the representative bodies of these brands, support workers in this Adidas dispute. After all they are workers themselves. Models Alliance, is a non-profit labor organization that seeks to give models a voice in the unregulated fashion industry. Many of its members have faced issues of wage theft, sexual harassment, and above all carrying the pressure of industry physical standards of beauty. On their website, Models Alliance states a message very clearly applicable to Selena Gomez, “how the industry treats its models influences the ideal presented in the magazines, and these images have a powerful, far-reaching effect on women in general.”
Workers, anywhere, have the right to organize and be treated with dignity. Whether Selena Gomez was aware of this or not, after Wednesday night she may realize something is wrong about her affiliation with the Adidas brand.
Information in this post was obtained by a report from the Workers Rights Consortium.
– Maribel Falcon