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adidas exposed by impostors at tech conference
Virtual heaven for underpaid workers? Underskin chips to measure labor? "Great idea!" say hundreds of techies, entrepreneurs, journalists at "largest tech conference in the world"
[Lisbon, November 17] - This Wednesday, an "adidas executive" named "Aristide Feldholt" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men) announced to a huge, standing-room-only crowd at Web Summit — the self-described "largest tech conference in the world" — that adidas would reward tens of thousands of underpaid sweatshop workers, many of whom are owed significant backpay and severance by letting them frolic in a deeply weird VR world called the "adiVerse," paying for it with a cryptocurrency generated by a tiny chip implanted into their bodies.
"Aristide" was joined onstage by the multi-platinum "DJ Marshmello" (actually Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men), who dropped his new single, "All Day I Dream (About Back Pay)." As a bizarrely obscene "live feed" of the "adiVerse" played on two giant screens overhead, the world-renowned dance crew the LisbonBreakers (who didn't realize they'd been hired by tricksters) performed a slow choreography of workers being freed from their three-striped bonds (designed by collective Threads & Tits), then danced spectacularly like there was a tomorrow (sic).
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Despite "Aristide's" explicit, slide-assisted descriptions of adidas's Nazi origins and "outsourcing" to forced labor in WWII, their "almost" solved child-labor problems, and their current workplace abuses (full text with footnotes here) — not to mention the horrific video overhead — the thousand-strong audience simply applauded, then crowded "Marshmello" for autographs.
One hour later, dozens of tech journalists packed into the Web Summit press room to listen to even more explicit descriptions of the concept, and explaining why adidas cannot help workers in the real world — and then asked polite questions. No one expressed any real objections.
"Bad workplace conditions break open our hearts," said "Aristide" in a strong but vague multinational accent, "but we have no control over these factories, by law and by contract and by design. Because of how outsourcing works, there are contracts, subcontracts, sub-subcontracts, and this chain of controllessness means we aren't responsible for what happens. And fixing it would bankrupt us." Which is true.
"Lately, I've been thinking, I want them to be happier, I want them to be happier," chimed in "Marshmello," misquoting his own hit breakup ballad to make it a song of solidarity with garment workers.
"We really need some adults in the room," said Bichlbaum as himself. "The techies are clearly not paying attention. It's like thousands of little Eichmanns or something, but following money instead of orders."
"adidas owe millions to workers making their product in Cambodia who were paid even less than the paltry minimum wage for the past few years, and to workers in Indonesia who were dismissed without compensation," said Christie Miedema of the Clean Clothes Campaign. "As adidas has consistently refused to take real action, despite continuous pressure from workers in these countries and activists around the world, another wake-up call was needed to expose adidas' willingness to leave workers out in the cold."
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