In the letter, dated 30 May 2023, the unions expressed their support for Adidas’ commitment to donating proceeds from the Yeezy shoe sales to fight discrimination and hate. However, they emphasised the importance of recognising the value these shoes represent and how they are produced by workers who have often endured significant hardships. Many of the unions represent workers involved in the adidas supply chain.

The open letter is signed by the Union Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights (RLR) Committee, representing various unions including the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation in Bangladesh, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union in Cambodia, the Free Trade Zones & General Service Employees Union in Sri Lanka, and Workers United in the USA.

They state the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on workers across various industries, including those involved in manufacturing Adidas products. The unions highlight issues such as unpaid wages during lockdowns and the lack of severance pay for workers who lost their jobs. They stress that efforts to negotiate with employers for back wages and owed severance have been met with increasing repression of basic trade union rights.

To address these concerns, the unions propose that Adidas allocate a portion of the Yeezy shoe sales profits to a ten-year commitment under the PYW-RLR agreement. The agreement aims to address wage and severance theft resulting from the pandemic and establish a global guarantee fund for future severance payments.

By doing so, Adidas would help alleviate the longstanding issue of severance theft in the garment, footwear, and textile industry, ensuring that workers are not left destitute when factories shut down or conduct mass layoffs without providing proper compensation.

The unions estimate the value of the Yeezy shoes at US$1.2bn, suggesting that the annual fee for Adidas to participate in the PYW-RLR agreement would be less than 3% of this amount. They stress that this commitment would have a significant positive impact on the lives of workers who contribute to Adidas’s product manufacturing.

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The PYW-RLR agreement also addresses the need to investigate and rectify violations of workers’ rights to organise and collectively bargain, further strengthening industrial relations. The unions expressed their willingness to negotiate directly with CEO Bjørn Gulden and remain open to his suggestions regarding the proposed agreement.

The unions acknowledge Adidas’ intention to rectify past issues resulting from their collaboration with Ye but urge the company to extend this remediation to the workers who produced the products now being sold for charity. They point out that true social impact can only be achieved when charitable initiatives are rooted in justice and fairness for all parties involved.

Adidas has not yet responded to the open letter and had not responded to Just Style’s request for comment at the time of going to press.