Suparjo made adidas shoes for 8 years before losing his job for his participation in a strike asking for better wages. Here he tells his story about why he decided to take a stand.
I was born in the rural area of Wonogiri, Central Java on 22 July 1977. I was the second of four children, but one of my younger brothers passed away. After I finished primary school I was forced to drop out. My parents were worried that they couldn’t afford to put me through secondary school.
But I was aware of the importance of school and the importance of formal education. So after two years I worked up the courage to ask my parents if I could go back to school. They allowed me to continue my secondary school education and promised that if I achieved good marks, I could continue all the way to graduation.
It turns out that I got the top rating in my class for my entire secondary school education.
After graduating I migrated to Tangerang to find work.
Childhood in Wonogiri
My parents work as farmers and labourers – they just manage to scrape by.
Many villagers in Wonogiri can’t afford to buy rice. So Wonogiri is famous for ‘cassava rice.’ When I was young we’d eat cassavas with chilli and that’s all. Sometimes we’d cook tempeh, but we wouldn’t even use oil. We’d just roast the tempeh, because we had to make do with the little that we had. We had chilli (and) we had cassava.
Wana means field and giri means mountain, so Wonogiri is a very hilly area. In the dry season we have hardly any water. We have to buy water. If it’d been a long dry season I’d go days without bathing because we had to pay for our water. We’d save water just for drinking and cooking. Sometimes we’d have to sell the little livestock we had just to buy water.
Moving to the city
After I finished secondary school I followed one of my older brothers to Jakarta. Big cities are seen as centres of economic opportunity — because all those people have to consume. But when we arrive in Jakarta it’s not like what we’d imagined. It’s really difficult to find work.
When I first began to work in the factory I was happy but then after 2-3 months I had to start working until very late at night. I was new so I wasn’t really aware of my rights. It was tough.
Power in numbers
I started working at Panarub in 1998 but didn’t join the union until 2003. It was only once I received education on workers rights that I began to appreciate the real importance of unions.
I felt really empowered because it turned out that workers were important and that we did have many rights. We weren’t just this group of people who others would feel sorry for.
After I was educated on my rights I knew that forced overtime was not allowed. There were so many things that we really should have known. I felt that I had to make these things known. So I was invited to become an information officer for the union.
No one forced me to become involved with the union. I started from a neutral position. Before we are aware of our rights we are just like the parts of a machine, but once we become conscious of our rights everything changes. If we remain unaware of our rights, the engine of the brands has absolute power. But once workers join unions and are aware of their rights, they have more power to negotiate.
In 2005 Suparjo was among 33 workers dismissed after taking industrial action against low wages at Panarub. Despite the Indonesian Human Rights Committee finding that the dismissals were illegal, adidas did not insist on the reinstatement of the workers. Adidas instead promised to ‘protect’ Suparjo’s job opportunities. Suparjo has applied five times to adidas supplier Ching Luh Indonesia, as well as adidas supplier PT Alaska, but remains unemployed.
Message for adidas consumers
I really hope that you will consider the lives of the workers who make the shoes that you wear.
I hope that you will be conscious of the fact that those shoes are made by workers whose welfare is too often ignored. I ask consumers for their support of workers’ rights.
I hope that they support my rights to obtain re-employment because I would like to support my parents back in Wonogiri, and I would also like to have a family of my own in the future.
Message for the CEO of adidas
I ask the CEO of adidas to seriously give attention to the rights of the workers who make adidas shoes and guarantee that these workers will have access to their rights. Adidas takes pride in its goods, which are expensive, yet considers its labourers as cheap commodities. They must start taking workers into consideration when they negotiate with suppliers.