While clothing production is being held more accountable for its environmental and human rights impacts, footwear has largely escaped the same level of scrutiny. 

That’s why Tearfund has focused its annual Ethical Fashion Report on the footwear industry this year. 

The report aims to measure the transparency of each company’s human rights and environmental policies, and help consumers better understand where their shoes come from and how they’re made by looking at the sustainability measures different companies have in place. 

And the results are not good. 

Some local brands score zero

Footwear brands were given a score out of 100, depending on the efforts they made to protect their employees and the environment.

Tearfund assessed six New Zealand brands as part of the report.

Allbirds received 26.7% while Mi Piaci, Merchant 1948, and Deuce received 12.82%.

Number One Shoes and Hannahs received a score of zero.

Ngahuia Group, the New Zealand company that owns Number One Shoes and Hannahs, chose not to participate in the research which means their brands were assessed only on information that is publicly available.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the company’s practices involve modern slavery - it just means we don’t know if they do.

And in 2022, that’s simply not okay, Tearfund says. 

Shoe companies “have slipped under the radar”

Report author Morgan Theakston says this year’s research found the footwear industry has barely begun to adopt practices that ensure ethical and sustainable measures.

“The fashion industry’s chronically low wages trap workers and their families in a cycle of poverty,” she says.

“This creates desperation, which increases vulnerability to exploitative conditions, such as forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery.

“While New Zealand’s clothing industry has faced intense scrutiny leading to positive change, shoe companies have slipped under the radar.”

The average score in the report was 22%, with 80% of companies scoring below 50%.

Only 40% of companies knew where all their direct suppliers were.

No shoe companies could show they paid a living wage.

Tearfund assessed the scores based on a 46-question survey. 

Each company was marked on how well they performed in five key areas: Policy and Governance, Tracing and Risk, Supplier Relationships and Human Rights Monitoring, Worker Empowerment, and Environmental Sustainability.

Of the 66 brands included in the study, nine scored between 50 to 60%.

Those brands were:

  • Adidas (58.3)
  • Puma (58.03)
  • Cobra Golf (58.03)
  • Timberland (54.16)
  • VANS (54.16)
  • New Balance (52.21)
  • Nike (50.3)
  • Jordan (50.3)
  • Converse (50.3)

Theakston says transparency needs to become the standard right across the fashion industry. 

She adds that information on supply chains and ethical practices is also a good selling point, so if brands are doing good work, they will usually tell their consumers. 

Tearfund also recommends the 5 Rs when it comes to buying shoes:

  • Reduce the number of shoes you’re buying. 
  • Re-wear what you already own.
  • Repair shoes when they need it. 
  • Re-home any unwanted shoes by either selling or donating them. 
  • Raise your voice by letting footwear companies know what changes you want to see.

Top image: Shoes being made in a factory. Photo: Tearfund.

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