Student Labor Action Coalition

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Chancellor Wiley: Cut Adidas!

Hermosa workers protesting at the factory gates.
Ex Hermosa workers protesting at the factory gates.
Photo credit: Christliche Initiative Romero

The workers of Hermosa Manufacturing report unpaid wages and humiliating anti-union discrimination and blacklisting. As a condition of its million-dollar contract with UW, Adidas is legally bound to actively uphold basic human rights in all of its factories, but after three years of struggle, workers confirm that Adidas has done nothing to right the wrongs of Hermosa. We say, it's time for Chancellor Wiley to stand up for workers' rights and cut the Adidas contract!

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April 4th, Adidas VP Gregg Nebel attending meeting of the UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee.


Freeze Library Mall for Worker Rights

When: Wednesday, April 16th 2008, 12 PM
Where: UW Library Mall, meet at fountain area

For almost three years, progress on the Hermosa case has been frozen. Chancellor Wiley's laissez-faire approach towards worker rights is also frozen, frozen in a time when apathy and inaction ruled the day. But that time is not now. Now we stand up and say that our public institutions can do better, must do better, and will do better!

Action plan: at 12 noon, meet on Library Mall around the fountain. You will receive further instructions there. By 12:15, you should be somewhere on Library Mall in the area bordered by Memorial Library, Lake Street, and UW Bookstore. Naturally mill around, until exactly 12:15, when you should freeze in position. Hold your pose for exactly five minutes, until 12:20, then unfreeze and continue on your way.

We need volunteers of all sorts. If you can take photos or shoot video, we would like to talk to you about documenting this event. We will also need volunteers to hand out and post fliers before and after the freezing. If you can do any of this, or are planning to participate in any way, please contact us (include your phone number if possible).

Campaign Background

“We continue to be unemployed given the existence of blacklists, we do not have medical coverage from the nationalized healthcare system, and we continue to be owed our legal benefits since May 11, 2005. The brands adidas, Nike and Russell continue to avoid responsibility.” 1

Closure of Hermosa Manufacturing

Adidas, Asuma Su Responsabilidad

For many years, adidas produced apparel in a factory known as Hermosa in Apopa, El Salvador. In early 2005, a group of Hermosa workers, aware of illegal embezzlement by the factory' owner Salvador Montalvo, formed a labor union and registered it with the Ministry of Labor. After the union complained to the Ministry about the owner' embezzlement of benefit funds and failure to pay workers’ wages regularly, Mr. Montalvo temporarily shut down Hermosa, claiming that he had no funds to pay workers. Around the same time, he opened a new factory and moved much of Hermosa' machinery to the new plant.

By mid-2005, it was obvious that the factory was not going to reopen as claimed, leaving roughly 260 workers owed about $825,000 is unpaid wages, severance, and health benefits, all of which is mandated by both El Salvadoran law and the UW Code of Conduct. Following the closure, the union of about 63 of the former workers began protesting and pursuing legal claims against Hermosa' owner. To date, these claims have remained stalled in the courts.

Workers Blacklisted

These 63 workers are now blacklisted, illegally denied work in the apparel sector as a result of their protests and lawsuits. The practice of blacklisting is explicitly prohibited under both local law and the UW Code of Conduct, and licensees, in this case adidas, are to be held responsible for violations.

In reports issued over the three years since Hermosa closed, the Worker Rights Consortium (the organization employed by the UW to investigate such cases) has repeatedly confirmed that the workers remain blacklisted. Former Hermosa workers who applied for work at a neighboring factory, Chi Fung, described the attitude of the supervisors there as explicitly hostile towards Hermosa workers. “People from Hermosa are troublemakers,” said one manager. “We don’t want them working on the lines because they don’t want to work.” 2

Estela Marina Ramirez, a member of the Organized Group of Former Hermosa Workers, described the blacklisting in a May 2007 letter:

Our compañeras have been examined on machines and operations different from their abilities and upon completing the test, have been forced to sign a document in which they accept that they didn't pass the tests titled "evaluation page" as a condition of leaving the grounds of Chi Fung. Since April of 2006 until May of 2007, at least 20 former workers of Hermosa and union activists have confronted said humiliations in this supposed process of "selection." 3

Since that time, the situation has changed little. Working through the Fair Labor Association, adidas has hired a local human rights advocate, Mr. Zaldaña, to act as an ombudsman. The Worker Rights Consortium considers him a good choice, but workers reported in a February 2008 letter that he has been able to do very little to address the blacklisting:

Of the group of 21 that showed up for the selection process, only 6 of them were allowed in and only one passed the test. The next day they told her to apply for the document of reliability from the police, which is required for the probationary month, but the day after they fired her. The ombudsman insisted that they rehire her. On January 23 she started again, she felt subjected to a strategy of harassment, all of her work was rejected despite it being well made. They fired her again on January 30 (on January 16 the sister of this woman who had worked for 8 years in this factory was interrogated by the manager of Chi Fung, he told her that union people were a problem and it was their fault that the business had faced serious international problems with brands, mentioning to her names that included adidas). 4

Adidas’ Responsibility

adidas has an exclusive contract with UW-Madison to provide about $1.2 million in clothing and equipment which requires UW athletes to wear adidas gear on the playing fields and sidelines at all times. As part of this contract, adidas agreed to a Code of Conduct that guarantees to workers, among other things: payment of wages and benefits as mandated by local law; proper overtime compensation; freedom from harassment and abuse; and the freedom to organize and bargain collectively. Violations of any of these provisions is a violation of the contract with UW, and is grounds for immediate contract termination. adidas also holds a licensing contract with the UW, subject to the same Code of Conduct, which authorizes it to produce UW-logo apparel for sale on the collegiate market.

Student Campaign

Since 2005, students have been asking UW Chancellor Wiley to terminate adidas’ contract as a response to its continued lack of real action on the Hermosa case. In February 2007, the UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee (LLPC), an advisory body to the Chancellor, unanimous recommended that the adidas contract be terminated within 90 days unless adidas fully remediated the issues outlined in its resolution, including the issues of blacklisting and unpaid wages.

In response, Chancellor Wiley expressed his concern in a letter to the LLPC:

Bottom line, if there has been a breach, I intend to do everything necessary to confirm it, and to address the problem immediately; if there hasn’t been a breach, I intend to do everything possible to encourage Adidas to take more corporate responsibility for the Hermosa situation. 5

Since then, adidas committed to a series of half-measures while skillfully avoiding responsibility for Hermosa. These half-measures, which included things such as the establishment of a hotline to which workers can report issues (workers recently indicated to students that they have never heard of any such hotline), have done nothing to resolve the grave and fundamental issues of Hermosa.

To date, adidas has done absolutely nothing to remediate the issues the LLPC described in its resolution. Despite this, the UW has taken no further action, a violation of Chancellor Wiley' promise to the LLPC, and has instead insisted on a long series of conversations and meetings with adidas officials. For the Hermosa workers, the time has long since past for meetings:

Our situation demands concrete action. The evasions, the false promises, the disputes about who was responsible for what, and the excuses of the brands, the business owners, and the government only indicate to us an absence of real will to repay for the injuries that Hermosa Manufacturing has caused and continues to cause. Injuries that were, without a doubt, also the responsibility of Adidas, whether by acts of omission or commission. 6

Workers are very clear: they demand that adidas pay the $825,000 that they are legally owed and eliminate the anti-union blacklists in other adidas factories in the region. SLAC's local campaign has echoed this demand, and further demanded that UW Chancellor John Wiley take action on his promise to hold adidas responsible for the crimes committed against the Hermosa workers.

More Resources


1 Letter from Hermosa workers to students (10/3/07)
2 WRC Update on Hermosa/Chi Fung (4/20/06)
3 Letter from Hermosa workers to adidas VP Gregg Nebel (5/23/07)
4 Letter from Hermosa workers to students (2/15/08)
5 Letter from John D. Wiley to LLPC (3/13/07)
6 Letter from Hermosa workers to adidas VP Gregg Nebel (9/22/06)