On Feb. 14, two Indonesian workers accompanied by their translator, Rebecca Gluckstein, came to Wayne State to tell their story of the Adidas corporation’s refusal to pay almost $2 million dollars in severance pay to their workers at a factory called PT Kizone. PT Kizone was a clothing factory located in Tangerang, Indonesia that produced clothing for Adidas, according to a United Students Against Sweatshops flyer. The factory employed about 2,800 workers, most of whom were paid $0.60 per hour on average.
WSU students joined two factory workers in their native Indonesian tongue, chanting “long live the workers” in support of making Adidas pay its workers after one of the factories closed in Indonesia.
According to PT Kizone employee Aslam Hidayat, the owner of PT Kizone left Indonesia at the end of 2010, abandoning his workers without pay.
“At the end of 2010, the factory owner went to Korea saying he was going to get us money for our wages, and at beginning of 2011 our owner still had not reappeared,” Hidayat said. “The owner could not be reached by any methods, he cut communications. In January, we reported it to the labor department in Indonesia and a labor lawyer determined that PT Kizone had gone bankrupt.”
Hidayat was then elected as the head of the PT Kizone union.
“In 2003, I decided to run for the head of the PT Kizone union,” he said. “Because of that, I was frequently intimidated by the management. I am sure Adidas was aware of this, but they turned a blind eye ... One of the managers tried to intimidate me by hiring a thug to kill me. This was not successful because there was solidarity among the workers and they informed me before it was too late. But they didn’t stop there. When that didn’t work, they turned to more traditional Indonesian methods and hired another killer to kill me. I was saved yet again because of the solidarity of my fellow workers.
“When I first worked at PT Kizone, I saw a great deal of exploitation, and at the beginning of 2010, management threw me in jail because I did not cooperate with them,” Hidayat said. “I was in jail for six months. When I was released from jail, I returned and the pressure increased. They bribed me and offered positions that I was not qualified for. They offered me the directing president position, which is absurd because I was not qualified for that posi- tion.”
Heni, the other representative at the demonstration, worked for PT Kizone for roughly 13 years, along with her husband.
“When PT Kizone closed, we had no income and our financial situation dropped. Because we are already older, it was difficult for us to find work in other factories. In Indonesia we only have severance pays. We do not have health benefits that we have in the United States,” Heni said.
“My husband, who is nearing 50, was only able to find work in a construction store doing hard manual labor, lifting sand bricks and cement. He only earned 4000 (Indonesian) rupiah a day, which is a little under $4,” she said. “That was not enough for us to take care of our family, we have three children ... we became really poor and our lives became really difficult. My husband became ill and started coughing up blood. We could not afford a doctor.”
Heni said the suffering did not only happen to her, but to many of her friends as well. One of her friends never thought that a supplier of a huge company that produced high-quality items like Adidas would close. Heni had bor- rowed a great deal from a money-lender, and when PT Kizone closed she was still in debt. Heni said her friend fell into a “great depression.” Seeing no way out, she ended up killing her child before she committed suicide herself by jumping in front of a car.
“This story is not I made up or wrote — this is the truth, it was what really happened. I sit before you, hoping to bring a good message back to my friends who are waiting in Indonesia,” Heni said.
There were many students in attendance Feb. 14, some taking notes, others recording the event.
“I learned about the issue of Adidas’ refusal to pay due severance to their workers and the needless hardship this put those workers through,” WSU student Imran Nahin said. “I also learned about the damage it caused to multiple generations of families: grandmothers, parents and children — the corporation’s refusal to pay severance even caused former workers to commit suicide. This is a great social injustice.”
Another attendee, Garret Strain said, “I just want to let them know that as students we have enormous power to influence an industry as large as the garment industry, because we are uniquely positioned within supply chains to get our universities to sever ties with companies.”
USAS suggests three steps to get involved. First, get connected: they ask for people to email them at organize@ usas.org to get in contact with a national network of students who are running campaigns. Second: deliver a letter to the president at one’s university explaining why they should cut ties with Adidas. Third, take action: A USAS flyer advocates creative letter deliveries, hosting worker tour events and petitioning Adidas.
“Wayne State has responsibility to terminate its contract with Adidas,” said Strain, who is the international campaigns coordinator and longtime member of USAS. “Wayne State has a code of conduct written into its con- tract with Adidas that governs labor standards, and that conduct will be meaningless if Wayne State doesn’t cut its contract with Adidas.”
“We do not contract directly with Adidas or any other merchandise companies,” WSU director of communications Matt Lockwood said. “The Collegiate Licensing Company manages the licensing of all WSU produced products. We are looking into this issue to ensure that Adidas is being a responsible corporate citizen.”