Adidas rejects investigating HR chief in race row

BERLIN (Reuters) - Adidas ADSGn.DE rejected on Wednesday a call by employees to investigate the German sportswear brand's human resources chief over her handling of racism at the company after she described it last year as "noise" only discussed in America.

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

An Adidas spokeswoman said it strongly rebuffed statements made in a letter by 83 employees, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, asking the supervisory board to investigate Karen Parkin’s approach to racial issues in the workplace.

The spokeswoman said Parkin had apologised for the comments in a statement issued to staff and was working with a coalition on the company’s global diversity and inclusion commitments.

“Our black employees have led the response that we will continue to implement together and that we have committed to as a company,” the spokeswoman said.

In Parkin’s statement, the HR boss admitted 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”.

“I should have chosen a better word...Should I have offended anyone, I apologise,” she said.

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.

The employee letter cited by the Journal also asked Adidas to create a public platform where people can make anonymous complaints about racism.

Adidas said it had long had a hotline where employees could submit such reports. It said last week it would engage a third-party investigator to oversee a zero-tolerance policy on racism and set up a council to ensure action on the issue.

After close consultation with black employees, Adidas last week 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.

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 Mark Heinrich