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Adidas HR head steps down after race row

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of human resources at Adidas has stepped down after a group of employees called for an investigation over her handling of racism at the company which she had described last year as “noise” only discussed in America.

FILE PHOTO: An Adidas shop is seen in Berlin, Germany, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

The German sportswear company said that Karen Parkin was leaving the company after 23 years in mutual agreement with the supervisory board effective June 30, with Chief Executive Kasper Rorsted taking over her role on an interim basis.

“It has become clear to me that to unify the organisation it would be better for me to retire and pave the way for change,” Parkin, 55, said in a statement.

Adidas’s statement did not mention a letter by 83 employees, obtained by the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, asking the supervisory board to investigate Parkin’s approach to racial issues in the workplace.

Adidas had rebuffed the criticism and noted that Parkin had apologised for the comments and was working with a coalition on global diversity and inclusion commitments.

At the time, Parkin issued a statement saying she had not made clear the company’s stance against discrimination at a meeting at the Reebok brand in Boston last year when she made a comment about concern about racism being “noise”.

Parkin, who holds joint British and U.S. citizenship, was appointed to the Adidas executive board in 2017, the first woman to join the company’s top leadership since 1993.

Adidas CEO Rorsted said on Tuesday: “Going forward, I remain focused on working with my executive board colleagues and our leadership team to continue our momentum in Human Resources and to build a more diverse and inclusive Adidas.”

After consultation with Black employees, Adidas earlier this month pledged to invest $20 million in the Black community in the United States and make sure that at least 30% of all new U.S. jobs are filled with Black and Latino people.

Adidas partners with many prominent Black athletes and celebrities and its sneakers and tracksuits have been part of hip hop culture and style since Run-D.M.C. started wearing them in the 1980s.

Companies around the world have pledged to fund racial and social justice causes amid worldwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman