Artist collective Yes Men is once again taking aim at Adidas

A prank rarely comes alone – at least that seems to be the motto of the artist collective Yes Men, which pilloried the sportswear retailer Adidas for the second time this year with a public action at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

The art-creating activists posed as representatives of Adidas at the tech conference and announced that the Herzogenaurach-based sports equipment manufacturer would in future pay its employees in a virtual currency, the “adiCoin”. This would give employees in the so-called “adiVerse” access to those luxury products that are denied them in reality.

Artist collective denounces Adidas

The latest prank was aimed at reiterating what the collective believes is inappropriate treatment of workers in Adidas’ supply chain, particularly with regard to workers’ rights, the campaign’s affiliate Clean Clothes said on Friday. There is also renewed strong demand for the signing of the “Pay Your Workers” agreement, which would legally oblige the brand to compensate and protect workers. Reference was also made to a 2021 report by the Swiss sustainability-oriented non-governmental organization ‘Public Eye’, in which Adidas was described as the “worst offender in connection with wage theft in the pandemic period”. Adidas allegedly owes garment workers $11 million (10.14 million euros) in back wages.

Adidas once again in the sights of the Yes Men at the Web Summit 2023 Image: The Yes Men

“Adidas is spending significant amounts on an alternative currency and virtual universe to prevent its garment workers from receiving the money they deserve,” said Billy Yates, US director of the Pay Your Workers campaign. “The reality may be even bleaker: Adidas spent hundreds of millions on FIFA’s Qatar debacle while ignoring the legitimate claims of workers in Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere for the money they are entitled to.”

Yes Men already hit Berlin Fashion Week

Yes Man had already targeted Adidas during Berlin Fashion Week earlier this year. At that time, a deceptive press release was sent to the media claiming that CEO Bjørn Gulden had appointed former Cambodian garment worker Vay Ya Nak Phoan as co-CEO of the company. At the time, it was said that the new “Own the Reality” initiative was the most ambitious “social and environmental responsibility plan ever implemented by a major brand.” The organization had also claimed that Adidas would sign the “Pay Your Workers – Respect Labor Rights” agreement.

After some media picked up on the false press release and fell for the collective, they solved their prank and the associated goal with a fashion show in the multi-label store Platte open. Supposed co-director Vay Ya Nak Phoan shared stories of her time as a seamstress, while clearly exhausted models stumbled down the runway in recycled Adidas garments. Some handed out vouchers with inscriptions like “The perfect gift – finally paying our workers”.

Adidas clearly distanced itself from the campaign in January. The sportswear retailer has not yet responded to an inquiry from FashionUnited regarding the latest prank.