After Weeks of Turmoil, How Adidas’ CEO Says the Company Will Address Racial Injustice Now

Editor’s Note: An update to this article is available here.

After a challenging few days during which several hundred employees united to challenge Adidas management on issues of racial disparity, the brand’s top managers have laid out a series of next steps.

In an internal memo sent to staffers today, and obtained by FN, Germany-based Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted told employees that the brand’s leadership has agreed to take three immediate actions. The company plans to increase to $20 million its investment in programs that support black communities, including its grassroots basketball initiative, Adidas Legacy; invest in university scholarships for black employees by financing 50 scholarships each year during the next five years; and increase its number of black employees by committing to filling 30% of all new positions in the U.S. at Adidas and owned-brand Reebok with black and Latinx talent.

“The events of the past two weeks have caused all of us to reflect on what we can do to confront the cultural and systemic forces that sustain racism. We have to look inward to ourselves as individuals and our organization and reflect on systems that disadvantage and silence Black individuals and communities,” Rorsted stated in the memo. “While we have talked about the importance of inclusion, we must do more to create an environment in which all of our employees feel safe, heard and have equal opportunity to advance their careers. As Adidas, we will create a lasting change and we will do it now.”

While the memo and planned actions fulfill some of the demands made by a coalition of employees, formed this month, insiders tell FN the brand’s response continues to fall short of what many people of color at Adidas North America want from top executives.

Adidas store china
Inside an Adidas store in China.
CREDIT: Wu Hong/Rex Shutterstock

About a week and a half ago, a group of about 13 employees formed a coalition representing over 100 employees (now 200-plus employees are said to be represented by the coalition) aimed at yielding swift and permanent change in how Adidas 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.

On June 2, 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 listed four major “asks.” The coalition had asked 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 had specific KPIs (key performance indicators) as well as proposed deadlines. For example, the coalition requested Adidas have 31% representation of black and Latinx employees at every level of the organization by Dec. 31, 2021.

The coalition had also given Adidas’ management a deadline of June 5, which the company honored, to make an internal announcement of its commitment as well as timeline of June 19 for a “global media announcement.”

Still, insiders told FN that management’s response was missing, among other things, the apology that black employees desperately wanted and also fell short of an anticipated $30 million commitment to invest in black students. Further, some employees were concerned that the brand’s response was not informed by black executives at the brand who sought to advise management on best steps.

The coalition and the several hundred employees have been sitting out of work since Friday, sources tell FN. Meanwhile, other employees, organized by Julia Bond, an assistant designer for Adidas Originals apparel, have been protesting since Friday a purported discrepancy between the brand’s public messaging around racial justice and its own treatment of minority employees. Bond and her supporters have also asked management for an apology regarding the company’s treatment of black employees.

Access exclusive content