More Justice, Less Fear, at Adidas Supplier in Cambodia

Trax Apparel—a sportswear factory in Cambodia, disclosed as a supplier to Triform Custom Apparel, adidas’s licensee for collegiate apparel—has reinstated and provided legally owed back pay to workers whom the factory unlawfully dismissed in 2020, following a WRC investigation and subsequent engagement with adidas for corrective action.

This case underscores the critical role of collegiate codes of conduct when local legal avenues and buyers’ own factory monitoring fall short in protecting workers’ rights. Significantly, the resolution of freedom of association cases often depends on the active engagement of buyers, highlighting the vital role that university codes of conduct play in upholding labor rights standards and protecting workers.

In 2020, Trax Apparel violated its workers’ associational rights when it illegally chose to not renew the contracts of eight workers who were leaders and activists in a then newly formed union at the factory. Despite ongoing engagement with the WRC, factory management further violated these workers’ rights in 2022, when management refused to reinstate any of the eight discriminatorily dismissed employees, unless four of these workers forfeited their own right to reinstatement and all eight employees sacrificed half their owed back wages. Trax Apparel also restricted the four reinstated workers to an area in the factory where they were isolated from more than 95 percent of the factory’s workers.

In February 2023, after further engagement by the WRC with adidas, Trax Apparel agreed to reinstate the remaining worker leaders and provide full back pay to all eight of the workers who were dismissed. The workers were paid these back wages in February 2023 and the three workers who accepted the reinstatement offer returned to the factory in March 2023. All seven of the reinstated workers returned to their original positions in the factory’s main production areas.

The worker leaders received a total of USD 47,076—one of the largest payments per worker in back pay among the cases the WRC has investigated at a factory producing collegiate apparel.[1] Payment of these wages has had a significant positive impact on the worker leaders. One worker shared, “I can now pay back the loans and interests and provide support to my sick father, as well as just survive on a daily basis.” This worker has now returned to her previous position on the main sewing line.

These workers’ reinstatement is significant for them but also for the entire workforce, who are less afraid to raise labor rights issues to management and exercise their associational rights. The union president, who was reinstated on April 26, 2022, told the WRC, “[Trax Apparel’s payment of] the full back pay to the terminated workers created additional confidence in the union [among workers].” She added that in the seven months since the remaining leaders’ reinstatements in March 2023, more than 400 workers have joined their union, bringing the total membership to 630. This is a promising sign that the remediation has gone a significant way toward achieving the stated goal of addressing the fear among workers created by Trax Apparel’s terminations of the worker union leaders.

While workers expressed happiness with their reinstatement and management’s increased respect for the union and willingness to improve labor relations, concerns remained. In particular, on September 16, 2023, a factory-level committee was established at adidas’s request, according to Trax Apparel workers.

Workers expressed concerns to the WRC about the composition of this committee, which includes members of another union that is heavily influenced by management. Workers doubted that this committee would properly reflect workers’ labor rights concerns.

The WRC will continue to monitor the factory, in particular this new committee, to ensure that Trax Apparel complies with university codes of conduct and Cambodian labor law.

[1] This amount includes the USD 16,000 paid to eight workers as part of the initial partial resolution of the case in April 2022.