The Dark Side of Adidas: 8 Unethical Practices and Controversies

Climate Real Talk Team

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Adidas, a renowned sports brand, has engaged in unethical acts including forced labor, environmental harm, and racism. Join to uncover the dark side of adidas.

Do you remember how much fun it was to show off our athletic skills and sportswear on the field during the sports day in school? Growing up, we always saw Adidas as a go-to brand for sporting events and other occasions.

To no one’s surprise, this famous label has long been the preferred option of sportspeople and athletes everywhere. Adidas has a particular place in our hearts and closets because of its legendary three-stripe emblem, which has come to represent excellence and performance.

Despite its reputation for progress and creativity, Adidas has several unethical practices and controversies, just like a lot of big brands have unethical practices. The company’s ethical standing and social responsibilities have come under fire throughout the years from various stakeholders.

These scandals have damaged the company’s image and prompted vital discussions about the accountability of modern multinational corporations. In this article, we will look at the dark side of this brand while exploring the controversies and unethical practices of Adidas.

The Dark Side of Adidas Practices of Adidas

Some of the unethical practices of Adidas people have called out include:

1. Labor Exploitation

The Dark Side of Adidas

Labour exploitation has been a significant dark side Adidas, particularly in its supply chain, which frequently includes facilities in underdeveloped countries. Some of these factories have been labelled “sweatshops,” a derogatory term for the inhumane working conditions and excessively long hours.

The exploitation of child labour is one of the most upsetting accusations against Adidas and other athletic businesses. Child labour is a serious violation of human rights, and critics have accused Adidas of having its supplier companies hire people too young to work.

Exploiters mainly target children, forcing them to work in hazardous conditions instead of attending school. There have been reports of minors as young as 14 working in supplier factories in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia that produce Adidas goods.

Although Adidas claims to have stringent labour standards and regulations against child labour, monitoring and enforcing compliance across its extensive supply chain has proved challenging.

Additionally, rumours have been circulating that Adidas uses children as young as 10 to produce their goods in factories.

Additionally, there have yet to be any reported efforts by Adidas to provide a decent wage to its employees. Some workers in supplier factories have complained that their pay is too low to allow them to provide adequately for themselves and their families. This means the factory workers (mainly women) who spend all day creating $100 shoes are underpaid.

People have also accused some Adidas factories have also made it hard for workers to form unions or participate in collective bargaining. This makes it harder for workers to share their concerns and improve working conditions. Such actions keep people in a cycle of poverty and exploitation, which raises questions about the company’s sense of social duty and dedication to doing business ethically.

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Critics have also condemned Adidas for conducting business in countries with bad records on human rights. Several reports and investigations linked some global companies, including Adidas, to factories in Xinjiang that reportedly use forced labour from the Uyghur minority. These unethical practices of Adidas all contribute to a gross violation of human rights.

2. Environmental Impact

As a result of these emissions, global warming, harsh weather, and rising sea levels are more likely to occur. It’s important to note that the production and dyeing procedures at Adidas contribute to water contamination, which threatens ecosystems and populations that rely on clean water.

Additionally, fabric scraps, packaging materials, and unsold stock all contribute to the garbage the brand produces when making sportswear. Another major problem in the sportswear industry is the use of harmful chemicals in manufacturing.

Adidas has been accused of using hazardous chemicals harmful to workers, customers, and the environment in their goods and manufacturing processes.

Some environmentalists have accused the corporation of greenwashing, saying its sustainability activities are insufficient to address its overall environmental effect.

By 2050, the company aim to reach carbon neutrality. Since 2017, they have lowered their CO2 output by 26% and water output by 21%. While Adidas’s goal to cut greenhouse gases from its operations and supply chain is commendable, the company still needs to be on track to achieve it. 

Also, Adidas does take minimal action to curb deforestation by not using raw materials from species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

However, it only goes so far as to publish its own rules on the matter, especially concerning materials associated with deforestation, like leather. It is easier for stakeholders to hold the brand accountable for its sustainability commitments with sufficient information.

3. Animal Right Issues

Another unethical practice of Adidas that has come under scrutiny is its violation of animal rights. The sustainability of their leather supply for shoes and other items is a significant concern.

Using down feathers for insulation in outerwear and sportswear is usual. Due to this, concerns about using down from birds that were live-plucked or force-fed have prompted calls for more transparent practices and certifications.

Due to practices including factory farming and insufficient living circumstances, the leather business is notorious for harming animal welfare. Animal rights advocates claim that Adidas sources its leather from companies that exploit animals or damage the environment.

The company has recently rejected claims that it sells kangaroo leather products in California, where such sales are illegal. Furthermore, critics have accused the company of not being transparent regarding its supply chain sourcing methods.

4. Exploitative Marketing and Endorsements

Exploitative marketing and endorsements are unethical ways companies like Adidas promote their goods or services by using weak people or groups as guinea pigs. These strategies often use deceptive methods that play on consumers’ feelings, lack of knowledge, or personal weaknesses.

Many have called out Adidas for its marketing efforts that target groups like women of colour People have also said that the company uses social or cultural trends for marketing without backing the causes or values they say they stand for.

This “cause-washing” can make people lose faith in a brand because they feel its fake actions tricked them. For example, the company has come under fire for a recent campaign where it posted graphic images of women’s breasts online.

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5. Corruption and Bribery Allegations

Another unethical practice of Adidas that received backlash is the brand’s involvement in corruption and bribery scandals. In 2017, the FBI in the United States revealed a vast corruption plot in college basketball involving several major apparel corporations, including Adidas.

Allegedly, executives and staff of Adidas paid bribes to high school basketball players and their families to influence them to enroll at universities that Adidas sponsored.

The money was supposed to buy their allegiance to the brand and control any future endorsement deals they made as professionals. As a result of the controversy, several Adidas employees were arrested and charged with fraud and corruption.

Also, in 2021, the French government began investigating Adidas because of bribery and corruption claims. The investigation was based on the suspicion that Adidas may have done something illegal in France while doing business there.

6. Racism

Adidas was also involved in a racism scandal after its workers exposed the company’s racial discrimination.

Employees from around the world at Adidas signed a statement calling for an investigation into the company’s head of HR, Karen Parkin.

These employees see her as a significant contributor to the issue. These employees also noted that Karen Parkin regarded the complaints made as noise. However, Adidas later fired her.

7. Celebrity and Athlete Sponsorships Controversies

Another unethical practice of Adidas that has been criticized is its choice of celebrity and athlete sponsorships. Some of Adidas’ endorsement deals with athletes and celebrities have been the subject of criticism and ethical concerns.

Adidas has had a long-running marketing deal with Tiger Woods, a famous golfer, in the past. However, in 2009, Woods became involved in a public incident involving infidelity, which damaged his reputation.

Many people felt that Adidas should have broken ties with Tiger Woods because of his inappropriate behaviour, but the company kept its sponsorship despite the criticism.

The court indicted several high-ranking FIFA officials on corruption accusation in 2015, and one of the biggest sponsors of FIFA and the World Cup was Adidas. The controversy tarnished the sportswear company’s reputation because of its ties to a governing body under scrutiny for alleged corruption.

Many activists attacked the company for not taking a stronger position against corruption in football. Additionally, despite the organization’s involvement in questionable practices, Adidas was criticized for continuing its sponsorship of FIFA.

Also, most people know that Adidas and Kanye West worked together to make the famous Yeezy shoe line. While the partnership gave both parties commercial success, it suffered from criticism of Kanye West’s aggressive political ideas and social media outbursts.

Some customers wanted Adidas to cut connections with Kanye West because of his controversial actions. While the company cut ties with the brand in October 2022, it has plans to sell a second batch of Yeezy shoes.

Also, Mary Cain, a former professional runner sponsored by Adidas, has made severe charges of emotional and physical abuse against her former coach and Nike Oregon.


Although Adidas was not directly involved, the scandal did bring up concerns about the duty of sportswear companies to protect the well-being of sponsored athletes. It also raised concerns about the brand’s responsibility to promote ethical practices within its partner organizations.

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8. Impact on Local Communities

Adidas has been involved in several scandals that have had far-reaching consequences for the neighbourhoods where the firm has a presence. The unethical practices of Adidas illustrate how a company’s operations can have far-reaching implications for the local communities that host its facilities and retail outlets.

The company has shut down several factories to save money or relocate production to more affordable regions. Local workers have lost their jobs due to these shutdowns, and many of them are now without steady employment and must find ways to make ends meet.

There have been incidents of economic decline, increasing poverty, and diminished possibilities in areas that relied mainly on these enterprises for employment. There have been demonstrations and public scrutiny of Adidas supplier facilities because of reports of bad working conditions, low wages, and labour rights violations.

These problems have severely impacted local communities because they have forced workers. Additionally, most of these workers come from low-income households and put up with unsafe conditions and low wages.

The growth of Adidas retail and corporate facilities in some neighbourhoods could cause gentrification and force out long-time residents and local businesses. The presence of a well-known name in the area can raise property prices and the standard of living for existing inhabitants.

However, this would be at the expense of middle-class families and local businesses.

The sportswear company has also come under fire for appropriating indigenous symbols and designs without compensating their original creators. Such measures can push marginalized groups further into the background and risk cultural extinction.

Click here if you want to learn more about the unethical practices of Adidas.


Adidas’s unethical practices have stained the company’s otherwise stellar reputation as a leader in the sportswear industry. Despite its worldwide success, many have accused the company of violating workers’ rights, damaging the environment, and being involved in unethical practices.

Adidas joined several initiatives promoting sustainable practices, implemented labour monitoring programs, and increased transparency to address these issues. However, critics argue that more urgent measures are needed to address the systemic problems within the company’s supply chain.

In this regard, Adidas’s shadowy side serves as a reminder of the importance of companies balancing ethical principles with the drive to maximize profits and expand their operations.

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