On October 1, Cornell University cut its business ties with Adidas because of workers' rights violations by the company. This move marked a significant juncture in the fight to protect workers' rights around the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, the multinational sports company refused to pay $1.8 million dollars in “legally-owed severance” to workers after the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia unexpectedly shut its doors in 2011. Cornell, a major consumer of collegiate apparel, will be the first American University to “sever its business ties” with Adidas, illustrating the university's moral stance on the ethical treatment of workers. Cornell’s business decision sends a strong message to manufacturers: we are watching and will not participate in the abuse of workers.
Collegiate apparel is a huge business. I am only one person and having only been in Ithaca for six weeks, and I have already spent at least $250 on collegiate apparel. By the time I graduate in the spring of 2014, I undoubtedly will have acquired many more T-Shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, etc. There are roughly 14,000 undergraduates studying at Cornell this fall. If each student spends $250 on collegiate apparel in support of the school, the total is an astounding $3,500,000. When one accounts for additional purchases made by graduate students, parents, alumni, sports fans, and the like, we are talking an enormous amount of money being spent on collegiate apparel.
It is the job of a college/university to educate its student body on a variety of subjects. Considering that universities are a big part of their greater local community, it makes sense that the subject of social responsibility — as in the profound example by Cornell — should be shared as a lesson to the entire community, not just Cornell’s campus. By eliminating purveyors who are known to have violated workers' rights in the making of its collegiate apparel, the public can trust that the products available in the university’s stores are made with integrity. By embracing the entire community as a student, it is possible to teach a larger population to take a stand against labor rights violations – no matter where the abuse takes place.
Academic excellence has long been a major component of the education provided by Cornell. It is only natural that the university would lead by example and provide a role model for social responsibility as we strive to better the working environment for all people. As a leader in higher education and in the community at large — the abuse might have happened on the other side of the world, but we wear their unrewarded labor on our backs — and it is time to put a stop to it. I am hopeful Cornell sets off a domino effect and other institutes of higher learning follow suit.
In his termination letter to Adidas, David Skorton, President of Cornell stated very eloquently, “We believe that severance is a basic workers’ right.” I, for one, have never been more proud to be a Cornellian.