UPDATED Uprising at Adidas: Black Employees Form a Coalition to Pressure Top Management For Change

Updated: New Developments, 3:45 p.m. ET

FN has learned that the group of Adidas employees represented by the 13-member coalition fighting for change at the company has grown in the past several hours to include more than 150 employees. Those staffers are from both the North America campus as well as the brand’s global headquarters in Germany.

What’s more, the employees are mulling a plan for a several-days-long sickout, which would see individual staffers opt-in to turning on their “out of office” email alert until Tuesday when top management at Adidas is expected to deliver a go-forward plan to address purported racial disparities at the company.

What We Reported Earlier, 12 p.m. ET

What a difference a week can make.

For the past seven days, there has been a quiet uprising taking place among black employees at Adidas North America.

A group of about 13 employees last Friday united to form a coalition, representing over 100 employees, aimed at yielding swift and permanent change in how the organization supports its black team members and community at-large — with an added emphasis on pushing the brand’s top management in Germany to drive the organizational reset.

FN has learned that on Tuesday the group delivered to Adidas North America management, including president Zion Armstrong, a 32-page deck, dubbed “Our State of Emergency.”

In addition to claims that management “doesn’t grasp the discrimination minorities might face” and that “the difference in perception is largest in Germany,” the document lists four major “asks.” The coalition wants the company to: invest in its black employees; invest in the black community; invest in the fight for racial justice and change for black people; and demonstrate accountability.

Each of the group’s requests have specific KPI’s (key performance indicators) as well as proposed deadlines. For example, the coalition is requesting Adidas have 31%  representation of black and Latinx employees at every level of the organization by Dec. 31, 2021. (It’s unclear what the current minority representation numbers are although in its 2019 Annual Report, Adidas touted progress in gender representation, noting  a total of 34% of women globally in management positions.)

It also asks that the company immediately implement a new hiring policy requiring that black and Latinx individuals are interviewed for every new and open position.

The coalition has also given the company’s management a deadline of today to make an internal announcement of its commitment as well as timeline of June 19 for a “global media announcement.” The group’s plan, FN has learned, includes a long-term commitment from those involved  and is inclusive of team members from owned-brand Reebok.

The formation of the coalition is only the latest diversity and inclusion battle Adidas has faced over the past two years. Just yesterday, FN reported on a planned employee protest, scheduled for today, where workers (who may or may not be a part of the coalition) planned to call out the company for a purported discrepancy between the its external messaging and its internal actions.

Some employees told FN that public actions taken by Adidas this week — including an anti-racism post on its own Instagram page as well as a historic retweet of longtime rival Nike’s video calling for an end to racial injustice — ran counter to the way it has long dealt with staffers at its own North America campus.

“My existence at this brand is praised as diversity and inclusion, but when I look around, I see no one above or around that looks like me,” wrote Julia Bond, an assistant designer for Adidas Originals apparel, in a note she said she sent to Adidas’ North American leadership on Wednesday. “I can no longer stand for Adidas’ consistent complacency in taking active steps against a racist work environment. This is not business as usual.”

For her part, Bond is requesting that Adidas issue a public apology “for the racism and discrimination that they have openly enabled and perpetuated” and said that she and several colleagues would protest every day after until the apology is issued. (It is unclear the manner in which they would be protesting.)

The marked uprising this week follows a series of major reports on D&I issues at Adidas. In an FN exclusive report in November 2018, multiple sources — identifying as racial and ethnic minorities — said that leaders at the German athletic brand’s Portland, Ore.-headquarters had failed to promote and treat people of color fairly.

“North America senior leaders foster, encourage and reward an exclusive all-white environment made up of the same individuals that are consistently promoted and spotlighted,” said one employee at the time, who accused leaders of the brand of withholding opportunities from African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other minorities while unjustly promoting their white counterparts. “They ostracize people of color and cultivate a high school ‘clique’ environment.”

Since then, similar accusations against the brand have surfaced from members of the LGBTQ community who described instances of alleged discrimination on the part of the company.

Adidas told FN in June 2019 that is was making progress on certain diversity and inclusion issues and that it recently expanded its Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to “focus on underrepresented communities in our workforce across the talent lifecycle.” It also said at the time that it conducts “ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America.”

Adidas did not immediately respond to FN’s request for comment.

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