Adidas Event Shut Down by Protestors As Wages Become Hot-Button Issue

  • Protestors on Thursday disrupted an event featuring Rupert Campbell, Adidas’ top US executive
  • The protestors allege Adidas has not paid Asian contract factory workers and demanded payment.
  • The event unfolded as executives continue to battle rising worker discontent. 

Protestors on Thursday morning disrupted a Portland, Oregon, breakfast event that featured Adidas Head of North America Rupert Campbell.

The Portland Business Journal, the city’s weekly business newspaper, hosted the event at the Sentinel Hotel. It was part of a popular series that features local business leaders. 

Adidas is based in Germany, but its North American campus is in Portland, which is a hub of the global sportswear industry. Nike’s headquarters is in a Portland suburb. 

A speaker rose roughly 40 minutes into the one-hour event and demanded Adidas pay wages he alleged are owed to contract factory workers in countries including Cambodia and Indonesia. Moments later, he was joined by six others who unfurled a banner in front of the audience that read, “Adidas steals from its workers.”

Companies increasingly face protests over working conditions in warehouses and factories and continue to battle rising worker unrest, including renewed attention to the wages paid to workers who cut and glue sneakers together, mostly in Southeast Asia. 

“During the pandemic, Adidas stole millions of dollars from garment workers around the world,” said the speaker, who later identified himself as Billy Yates, US director of the Pay Your Workers Campaign. “In Cambodia alone, 30,000 workers are owed $11.7 million. Adidas, it’s time to pay your workers.”

Protestors unfurled a banner that demanded Adidas reimburse allegedly unpaid wages of contract factory workers.

Protestors unfurled a banner that demanded Adidas reimburse allegedly unpaid wages of contract factory workers.

Matthew Kish/Insider

Yates then started a chant of “Adidas, pay your workers,” which was joined by about half a dozen other attendees. The event organizers ended the event about two minutes later. 

Campbell remained near the stage throughout the brief protest and retook the stage after the protestors moved outside, earning him a standing ovation from the remaining crowd of around 200 people from Portland’s business community.

“I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Campbell said. “I repeat, this is a wonderful city with wonderful people.”

The protest resumed outside the hotel, with protestors unfurling a second banner that read, “Portland solidarity with garment workers.”

Protestors also distributed flyers to departing attendees that claimed, “While raking in billions during the pandemic, Adidas stole from workers producing their apparel.” 

Yates later told Insider the Pay Your Workers campaign is endorsed by over 280 unions and labor organizations worldwide. The $11.7 million allegedly owed to Adidas workers comes from a report produced by trade unions and other industry groups. 

“There’s a massive amount of wage theft that’s happening, in Cambodia in particular,” he told Insider. “It’s about time that Adidas comes to the table and meets with garment worker unions.”

The campaign also protested at Adidas’ North American headquarters in December. 

Adidas provided Insider a statement about the event after its conclusion:

“For more than 25 years, Adidas has taken a variety of measures to ensure fair and safe working conditions for workers in its supply chain,” the statement reads. “The Adidas Workplace Standards commit our suppliers to progressively increase worker compensation and living standards through continuous development of compensation systems, benefits, social programs, and other services. The disposable income of workers in our supplier factories is generally significantly higher than the respective statutory minimum wage.” 

Adidas said it has around 50 experts in supplier countries who oversee workplace standards. The company said it conducted more than 1,200 factory audits in 2021. 

“If our standards are breached, we have a sanction mechanism in place that can even lead to the termination of the business relationship,” Adidas said in the statement. 

Before protestors disrupted the event, Adidas North American President Rupert (left) spoke about his childhood and his career path.

Before protestors disrupted the event, Adidas North American President Rupert spoke about his childhood and his career path.

Matthew Kish/Insider

The wages paid to the contract factory workers who make the bulk of the sneakers sold in the US have been in headlines off and on since the 1990s. In 1992, labor activist Jeff Ballinger wrote an explosive story in Harper’s that compared the wages of an Indonesian factory worker to Nike endorser Michael Jordan. The factory worker made $37.46 a month. 

Ballinger noted several recent instances of factory workers getting restitution for unpaid wages, including at a Nike contract factory in Cambodia. 

“Unfortunately, the basic rules of the game haven’t changed,” Ballinger told Insider, after a reporter described Thursday’s event to him. “The basic story is the same. (Workers) don’t get what’s coming to them.”