Adidas is facing a class-action lawsuit from investors who allege the company knew about offensive remarks and harmful behaviour from Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, years before ending its partnership with him.
The German sports brand cut ties with its star collaborator in late October, following Ye’s antisemitic comments on social media and in interviews.
At the time, Adidas said the company “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” and called Ye’s remarks and actions “unacceptable, hateful and dangerous”.
Weeks before the decision, at Paris Fashion Week, Ye also wore a shirt with a White Lives Matter slogan – which the Anti-Defamation League categorises as a white supremacist phrase that originated as “a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement”.
The lawsuit – which represents people who bought Adidas securities between May 3 2018 and February 21 2023 – also alleges that Adidas failed to take precautionary measures to limit financial losses if the Ye partnership were to end.
The suit accuses Adidas, the company’s former chief executive Kasper Rorsted and chief financial officer Harm Ohlmeyer of being aware of or “recklessly” disregarding false or misleading statements surrounding the partnership with Ye, who is not listed as a defendant in the suit.
The suit cites a Wall Street Journal article from November which reported that executives, including Mr Rorsted, had discussions dating back to 2018 about the risks of Ye’s actions and the possibility of cutting ties with the artist.
The complaint also points to annual company reports from 2018 through to 2021 which, the suit says, failed to disclose risks related to Adidas’s partnership with Ye.
Adidas has pushed back on the allegations made in Friday’s suit.
“We outright reject these unfounded claims and will take all necessary measures to vigorously defend ourselves against them,” Adidas said on Monday in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Friday’s suit seeks unspecified damages, the payment of legal fees and “further relief as the court may deem just and proper”.
According to Friday’s suit, by 2019 sales of Yeezy shoes surpassed one billion dollars (£800 million).
Since cutting ties with Ye, Adidas has lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ending the partnership cost 600 million euros (£527 million) in lost sales in the last three months of 2022, helping drive the company to a net loss of 513 million euros (£450 million).
The decline, also attributed to higher supply costs and slumping revenue in China, contrasts with profit of 213 million euros (£187 million) in the fourth quarter of 2021.
More losses could be ahead, especially as the company struggles with what to do with the existing Yeezy inventory.
In March, the company forecast a 500 million euro (£439 million) hit to 2023 profit earnings if it decides not to repurpose the remaining Yeezy products in stock.
The company also predicted a 2023 operating loss of 700 million euros (£614 million).