PT Kizone Workers Find Solidarity In US Students

Dollars and Sense has this piece on the campaign of PT Kizone workers and the way they have connected with the anti-sweatshop movement on US campuses, including the on-going campaign by students at UW-Madison to push their university to cut its ties with Adidas over the dispute.

Abandoning his financially ailing factory in the Tangerang region of Indonesia, owner Jin Woo Kim fled the country for his home, South Korea, in January 2011 without leaving money to pay his workers. The factory, PT Kizone, stayed open for several months and then closed in financial ruin in April, leaving 2,700 workers with no jobs and owed $3.4 million of legally mandated severance pay.

In countries like Indonesia, with no unemployment insurance, severance pay is what keeps workers and their families from literal starvation. “The important thing is to be able to have rice. Maybe we add some chili pepper, some salt, if we can,” explained ex-Kizone worker, Marlina in a document released by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a U.S.-based labor-rights monitoring group, in May 2012. Marlina, widowed mother of two, worked at PT Kizone for eleven years before the factory closed. She needs the severance payment in order to pay her son’s high school registration fee and monthly tuition, and to make important repairs to her house.

When the owner fled, the legal responsibility for severance payments to PT Kizone workers fell on the companies that sourced from the factory—Adidas, Nike and the Dallas Cowboys. Within a year, both Nike and the Dallas Cowboys made severance payments that they claim are proportional to the size of their orders from the factory, around $1.5 million total. But Adidas has refused to pay any of the $1.8 million still owed to workers.

The precedent of withholding wages and benefits is strong in the garment industry as a whole. Apparel brands rarely own factories. Rather, they contract with independent manufacturers all over the world to produce their wares. When one factory closes for any reason, a brand can simply take its business somewhere else and wash its hands of any responsibilities to the fired workers.

Past campaigns run by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have cost brands like Nike and Russell millions of dollars when university contracts were cut. Campus activism has forced Nike to pay severance and Russell to rehire over 1,000 workers it had laid off, in order to avoid losing more collegiate contracts. Now many of these college activists have their sights set on Adidas. (Read full article here)

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