adidas Group Promotes Human Rights Standards for Factory Workers


The adidas Group is making strides in its goal of becoming a more responsive—and responsible—corporate citizen.

The German sportswear giant has released the results of a third party-conducted workplace ethics evaluation in a new report with a lengthy title: “Third Party Complaint Process for Breaches to the adidas Group Workplace Standards or Violations of International Human Rights Norms.”

Outlining a series of first-of-its-kind processes for the company, the document opens with a bold statement: “The adidas Group is committed to operating as a sustainable business which is environmentally sound, respects human rights and ensures fair, safe and healthy working conditions across our global supply chain.” 

Though the company has had worker’s rights policies and complaint filing protocol in place for more than a decade, their grievance mechanisms haven’t been successfully utilized, much to the detriment of the brand’s cultural reputation. Now it’s getting tougher on contact compliance, making contractors toe the line on treatment of workers and maintaining its corporate ethical standards.[more]

To be sure, the company is committed to inclusiveness for LGBT employees, for example, but has been accused of being less progressive when it comes to third party workerd at its contractors, vendors and suppliers.

For example, it has been accused of operating sweatshops in Indonesia, being on the wrong side of labor unions in 2006 and 2007, and violating the responsible sourcing code set by the London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Indeed, the biggest source of workplace complaints have come primarily from its suppliers. Most recently, in April 2014, one of the biggest strikes on mainland China took place at the Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Dongguan shoe factory, which primarily produces shoes for adidas Group brands, including its flagship adidas brand, Reebok, Rockport and Taylormade.

According to the report, the company defines a breach of its workplace standards as: “(a) a violation by a supplier, licensee, agent or contractor of an element of the Workplace Standards relevant to that supplier, contractor or service provider; or (b) any breach of an international human rights norm, whether related to an external service provider, supplier or to adidas Group’s own business operations, where these affect an outside party.”

In addition to embracing international standards, it’s encouraging factory workers to submit claims, tips or grievances by email in addition to the using the existing SMS worker complaint text service, along with taking the more traditional route of approaching management.

As the new standards note:

Workers with complaints or grievances who work in factories making products for the adidas Group should use the hotline numbers posted in their workplaces. The worker hotlines are operated by staff from our Social & Environmental Affairs (SEA) department, or in some countries, such as China and Bangladesh, by independent third parties and NGOs who speak the local languages of the worker populations. For other third parties, we encourage written submissions, emailed, faxed or posted. The complaint does not have to be submitted in English, it can be submitted in the individual’s or organisation’s own language.

If accepted, worker complaints will then be investigated by adidas Group’ Social and Environmental Affairs (SEA) division, with findings shared with all parties. If adidas is found in violation, it will cease or alter offensive behavior and undertake remediation, monitored by SEA.

Successfully implementing these new complaint processes would be a major step forward for adidas, although it’s unclear how much anonymity is guaranteed, with repercussions one of the biggest deterrents to workers coming forward and complaining about abusive treatment.

As Triple Pundit notes, “Much about the Process’ success and legitimacy is difficult to determine at this stage. Nevertheless, Adidas should be commended for putting together what appears to be a robust process and for acknowledging its role in preventing and remediating human rights violations.”

The emphasis on accessibility and convience for workers is part of the company’s ongoing transformation as a corporate citizen.

“We do recognize that the task ahead of us is a marathon, not a sprint,” adidas says in its sustainability video, below. “And we will continue to be committed to this journey.”

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[Images via adidas]