Adidas Responds to Backlash From Black Employees: ‘We Will Hold Ourselves Accountable for Change’

In a statement this afternoon, Adidas is responding to a new wave of backlash from black employees regarding how the organization supports its black team members and community at-large.

“We’re listening. We recognize that we have not done enough, and we are dedicated to doing more,” the company said. “We are close to finalizing our commitments to ensure our people, most importantly our Black employees, are heard, supported and involved in solutions. We are working very closely with our employee resource group Progressive Soles and a coalition of Black leaders, and we are united in making progress. Together we’re establishing quantifiable goals focused on immediate action and long-term impact, internally and externally. We will hold ourselves accountable for change. We firmly believe that together is the only way to move forward.”

The statement follows news today that 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.

Watch on FN

FN 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 listed 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 KPIs (key performance indicators) as well as proposed deadlines.

The coalition had 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.”

FN has also learned that the company honored the deadline for providing an internal announcement, sending to employees this morning a statement matching the one sent to this publication.

“Adidas has always been and will always be against discrimination in all forms and stands against racism,” part of the statement reads. “We are deeply saddened by what we see happening to our Black community in America. Racism is an issue that exists not only in the U.S., but in all countries. We all want to see justice, action, peace, and most importantly, progress. As a global sports company, adidas is committed to creating change.”

The company further noted that is had been communicating with employees throughout the week “to listen and understand and respect the range of emotions we are all going through” and that it has provided support and resources. It said that all leaders in North America and in its Global HQ attended educational sessions to learn how to lead through the current national crisis.

“Our online donation platform, DEED, provides the opportunity for 200% matching of employee donations to support organizations that are working on the frontlines of anti-racism and actively working to support our Black communities,” the company added.

Adidas said an update on its plans would be available first to employees then to the public some time next week.

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 employee

Access exclusive content