Adidas human resources chief resigns amid racism uproar

Adidas top human resources executive, Karen Parkin, has resigned effective immediately amid an escalating uproar at the world’s second largest sportswear maker over its handling of racism, diversity and inclusion.

The departure of Ms Parkin, the lone woman on the German company’s executive board, was announced by Adidas on Tuesday evening. It follows disgruntlement at Adidas from a comment she made last year at an internal meeting in which she described discussion on racism as “noise”.

A group of 83 employees wrote a letter in June to Adidas’s supervisory board calling for an investigation into her conduct. While Adidas at the time dismissed the internal criticism, Ms Parkin said on Tuesday she was leaving “to unify the organisation”. A British citizen, she has worked at Adidas for 23 years.

Her departure is among the highest-profile executive changes in recent weeks as the killing of George Floyd in the US has ignited a worldwide conversation on systemic racism and inequality. 

Adidas, in particular, has been caught flat-footed in its initial messaging on racism, choosing to retweet an ad by rival Nike as executives sorted through potential slogans of their own, ultimately rejecting some choices including “you can’t have sports without black people”.

In a statement issued by Adidas on Tuesday, Ms Parkin said that by resigning she wanted to “pave the way for change”. Kasper Rorsted, chief executive, will be in charge of human resources in the interim until a replacement is named.

Earlier this month Ms Parkin acknowledged in a post published in the company’s intranet that she “should have chosen a better word” when discussing racism at a company meeting in Boston in 2019. “Should I have offended anyone, I apologise,” she said, adding that it had been her responsibility as a board member “to make clear our definitive stance against discrimination, and this I did not”.

The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported Ms Parkin’s remarks. 

Adidas said this month it rejected the criticism over racism raised by employees in the letter to the supervisory board. The company stressed that it had “always been and will always be against discrimination in all forms and we stand united against racism”.

Adidas argued that its “black employees have led the response that we will continue to implement together and that we have committed to as a company”.

The remaining five members of the Adidas executive board comprise two Danish citizens, including Mr Rorsted, two Germans and an Australian, all of whom are white men. 

The company has previously announced several initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in hiring and promotion, pledging that a minimum of 30 per cent of hires in the US would be filled by black and Latino individuals and aiming for representation of those groups of 12 per cent in “leadership positions” in the US by 2025.