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Debates Adidas debate

The Adidas debate at our school 9/1/01

It must be said it is very rare to get a high-ranking member of any multinational corporation to even sit still, let alone ask them questions. With the huge amounts of money involved with these people, the chance that they will risk saying something incriminating is next to nothing. So, when David Husselbee, the global affairs director of Adidas was asked by a Hampstead student if he would like to come to school and have a talk with a group of students on fair trade issues, we didn't expect him to say yes. However, he agreed and that's why, on the 9th of January 2001, we sat down in the library, opposite the senior Adidas representative in charge of social and environmental issues himself; David Husselbee.

Present were around 30 students from years 9 to 11, Mr Jenkins, and a few guests: Richard Howitt MEP; Endang Rokhani and a translator from the Urban Community Mission (a factory monitoring group from Jakarta); a Channel 4 film crew and Mark Thomas - the very same Channel Four! activist comedian who had arranged for a year 9 class to speak to David on the phone a few weeks earlier.

Mr Jenkins made an introduction and we were addressed by all of the speakers. Mr Howitt talked about the efforts of his department in governing fair trade and the conditions of factories in Europe and their attempts at international standards of such. There had been a conference, he said, to discuss with large multinationals including Adidas the rights and comparative conditions of the workers in such countries as Indonesia, where European law is not Recognise. Adidas was not present at this meeting, and despite being given six weeks notice, they'd protested that they'd not been warned in time.

Then Endang spoke and told us something about the conditions of workers in those factories in Indonesia that the ECM had been to inspect. She talked about cramped dirty living, where workers from the country and their families were sharing rooms with as many as 16 people. She mentioned forced overtime and how the workers were made to work 14 hour days to earn as little as 1 a day. This, she explained, was only enough for a meal and travel to/from work. Workers would also, she said, be fined more than half a day's pay for being 5 minutes late. Their wages would not allow them even little extras such as even a new shirt once a month.

We were then introduced to the third speaker, David Husselbee. Very quick to tell us that he had worked for Oxfam, his words about how 'Adidas was changing and we're really trying to make things better' sounded distinctly hollow after Endang's testimony of how the real world is. "How long are you going to take to fix these problems?" we said. The answer was so vague as to be pointless. In response to the accusations of forced overtime, all he could come up with was "There is a sign on the factory wall saying 'Overtime is voluntary'". THAT'S IT?? A SIGN. This was completely unsatisfactory. David Husselbee spoke for a while, and said that the workers were earning, on average, 700,000rs a month "Nearly 25% over the minimum wage". When quizzed on how much this was he replied $90 dollars. In sterling? 60. At this point Endang interrupted to say that this money was only attainable though working overtime, from 9am to 10pm. David Husselbee had to admit that this was the case. But ! we were all eager to get to a stage where we could ask him questions of our own. In fact, when Mr Jenkins asked, around 15 hands went straight up. The questions asked ranged from asking why Adidas thought the minimum wage was fair and why not use their economic influence to raise it ("Adidas are not natural partners of governments" he said, but a few seconds later "We have spoken to governments, but not in Indonesia") to the moral issues of taking poor people from the villages and keeping them poor by not giving them enough even to send home. He claimed that the youngest person that had been found working in Adidas factories in Indonesia was only 16. Adidas' factories, according to him, were not under their control. Then Richard Howitt turned to David Husselbee and, after stating that ,as an MEP, he earns £40,00 a year, asked him how much he earned. The question was completely avoided. Someone asked him again, a few moments later. He refused to answer.

Mark Thomas then spoke to Mr Husselbee; he asked how many inspectors Adidas had for it's factories (23) and how many factories (over 1000) did he think this was enough? (He did, we didn't.) Lastly, Mr Jenkins asked David Husselbee if some year nine students could give in some entries to their 'design a boot' competition: three designs were shown on the projector - Crudidas, bore one, with a profit graph showing in the stripes. Adidas - Walking On Others said another. I am only a shoe and yet I was made in a fourteen hour shift. David Husselbee looked as if he was beginning to get very ruffled. At 11:00am, after promising to attend the next hearing at the European Parliament as though he was the most generous man in the world, he hastily said he had to leave to ahem 'catch a plane'. hmmm. After his quick exit there was a show of hands as to who felt they had more questions to ask - about 25 hands went up.

Then we got into groups and spoke personally with Mark Thomas, Richard Howitt and Endang. Richard explained how he and his committee worked towards European Fair Trade. We spoke to Endang and found out that the Unions in Indonesia are either violently discouraged (their members sacked). There is, she said, only one licensed Union in Indonesia. Lastly we spoke with Mark Thomas about what we could do to fight the injustice of those big corporations, such as Adidas, who exploit workers in such legally and economically fragile countries such as Indonesia. Boycott is the strongest method, he said!, but also important is writing letters - to CEOs and to Adidas and to anyone else we feel strongly about. "Letters from you are a powerful weapon" we were told, and he told us about a man in Africa who'd been freed only on the strength of letters from Amnesty. I personally felt empowered by this, by the thought that we can make a difference, that we all can, even you. When it came to it, we couldn't get Adidas to say anything completely incriminating. And we didn't expect to, PR people are trained in the art of avoiding the question, as we had seen.

But he did say he'd come back! *Evil glint in the eyes of 30 fourteen-year-olds* - we'll get you next time, Husselbee.

By Oliver Gatten

 

Links:

read the report that started it all

read Adidas's code of conduct

Mark Thomas Product info here here and here too!

Channel 4 MTCP archive

more about Richard Howitt

To contact the Urban Community Mission:
Urban Community Mission - Jakarta
Jalan Cempaka Putih Timur XI 26 Jakarta 10510,
Indonesia Tel (6221) 420-5623 Fax (6221) 425-3379

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