Adidas exec Roland Auschel rebuked for racist diversity remarks

A top Adidas executive reportedly received a “final warning” over “inappropriate and unacceptable” remarks about diversity, after several employees made anonymous complaints to the sportswear giant’s internal tip line.

Adidas chief sales officer Rolan Auschel was rebuked by the German company’s supervisory board following a compliance probe last year, the Financial Times reports, but still received a 26 per cent bonus increase and a contract extension.

The probe began in 2020 after a number of employees were offended by comments they found derogatory, discriminatory and racist, leading to complaints to the chief executive and human resources department.

According to the Financial Times, in one incident Mr Auschel told more than 200 managers at a company headquarters meeting in 2019 that the promotion of a black manager was Adidas’ “contribution to diversity”.

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“It was completely inappropriate,” one person who was present told the newspaper, which reported some employees were furious at the suggestion the manager was chosen for his ethnicity rather than on merit.

An external law firm was brought in to explore any “potential breaches of internal conduct guidelines”, Adidas told the publication, with the “comprehensive and independent” concluding that the conduct was not serious enough to fire Mr Auschel under German labour laws.

“The investigation revealed a training need for the executive in question in the areas of communication and diversity, equity and inclusion,” the company said, adding Mr Auschel subsequently “underwent several months of coaching in 2021”.

The 59-year-old, whose total annual remuneration rose to 3.6 million euros ($5.5 million) in 2021, was reportedly rebuked in private meetings by a member of the supervisory board which oversaw the investigation.

“Auschel received a final warning, he was given a last chance,” one person familiar with the matter told the Financial Times. “He does not mean his remarks in the way that many people understand them.”

Adidas has been contacted for comment.

It comes as the company faces controversy over its terminated partnership with Kanye West. Last week, Adidas said it would launch an investigation into allegations of misconduct by West during the tie-up with his Yeezy brand.

Adidas terminated its nearly 10-year relationship with West in October after the rapper made a series of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Former Yeezy and Adidas employees later came forward to Rolling Stone alleging West had created a “toxic and chaotic environment” at the company, and that Adidas board members had ignored his inappropriate behaviour which included verbal abuse, bullying, offensive remarks and sexual harassment.

They alleged West frequently played pornography in staff meetings.

West himself released a video early last month, prior to Adidas terminating the partnership, in which he played a pornographic film for shocked Adidas executives during a recent meeting.

In an open letter to Adidas CEO and board, former high-ranking Yeezy employees said leaders at the sportswear company were aware of West’s “problematic behaviour” but “turned their moral compass off”.

“He has, in years past, exploded at women in the room with offensive remarks, and would resort to sexually disturbing references when providing design feedback,” the letter said. “This type of response from a brand partner is one that Adidas employees should never be subjected to, nor should Adidas leadership ever tolerate.”

In a statement last week, Adidas said it was “currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true”.

“However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately to address the allegations,” it said.

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