BERLIN — Adidas has confirmed it will launch an internal investigation, after an anonymous letter from staff alleged that senior executives at the company ignored years of abusive behavior by musician and former Adidas collaborator Kanye West.
An Adidas spokesperson told WWD that the German sports giant was “investigating the claims made in an anonymous letter related to the workplace environment.”
In a statement, the company also said, “we have been, and continue to be, actively engaged in conversations with our employees about the events that led to our decision to end the [Yeezy] partnership.”
“It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true,” the company added. “However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately.”
The letter, which was reported exclusively by Rolling Stone magazine this week, said multiple disturbing incidents involving West took place over almost a decade. The letter stated that senior Adidas staffers knew of West’s “problematic behavior” but “turned their moral compass off.”
The Yeezy range was extremely popular for Adidas and, by 2022, experts estimated it was making the German sportswear giant between 1.5 billion euros and 2 billion euros a year.
The partnership between West and Adidas, which began in 2013, ended in late October this year. Adidas cut ties with West after the increasingly controversial musician made hateful comments and antisemitic threats. In doing so, Adidas joined other businesses, like Gap, Balenciaga and Foot Locker, in dumping West.
But the anonymous letter raised questions about whether Adidas should have terminated the partnership much earlier. Its writers said Adidas tolerated West’s difficult behavior for far too long. “As much as we all would love to solely blame Kanye, the undeniable truth is that the Adidas executive team and the board have been huge enablers,” it stated, according to Rolling Stone.
West, now known as Ye, began working with Adidas on the Yeezy range after he moved the shoe collaboration from Nike to Adidas. Over the following years, West reportedly became well-known within both the Yeezy team, and at Adidas in general, for playing pornographic videos during meetings. This was done, staff said, to unsettle, disconcert and disempower. It included West showing staff an intimate photograph and videos of his former partner, Kim Kardashian, the magazine said.
West was also well-known for other abusive behavior, including bullying and intimidating employees as well as making sexualized or overly personal comments to female staff, Rolling Stone reported.
The company’s decision apparently came after external pressure from one of Adidas’ biggest shareholders, Union Investment. The latter wrote Adidas asking for more information on the claims made in the anonymous letter, according to a report in the Financial Times.
The anonymous letter, titled “The Truth About Yeezy: A Call to Action for Adidas Leadership,” also wants executives at the company to react more quickly to situations like this, by more regularly reviewing its partnerships and coming up with firm rules for when a collaborative partnership, like that with West, should be terminated. It also wants Adidas to issue a public apology to all those staffers who were forced to deal with what it calls West’s “terrorizing behavior” over the years.
It is hard to know if this will happen. Adidas will get a new chief executive officer in January — Bjørn Gulden, former boss of Puma. When asked what he thought about Adidas ending its relationship with West at a Puma press conference in October, Gulden was pragmatic and replied that such relationships always need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“Every time you sign a partner, whether that be an athlete or an influencer or a rapper or whatever, it’s an evaluation of the positive and the negative,” Gulden told journalists. “You try to be diligent in what you do and there are always some things that go wrong,” he said. The difficult Yeezy situation at Adidas was unlikely to change how sports brands approached this topic, Gulden said at the time.