Tearfund’s ethical fashion research increases pressure on footwear

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen

GStock Studio via Envato

Tearfund, a New Zealand faith-based aid and development organisation, scored 25 top footwear companies representing over 90 brands to address worker exploitation and environmental impact.

Launched last month by Tearfund, the expose Footwear: An Industry Laced with Exploitation touches on the issues in the footwear industry and reveals how companies scored out of 100.

The highest score was Adidas with 58.3 per cent, while four companies – Nine West, Novo Shoes, Windsor Smith, and Ngahuia Group (Hannahs, Number 1 Shoes) – tied for the lowest spot, all scoring zero. Allbirds scored 26.72 per cent, just above the overall average of 22.72 per cent.

It is evident from the study that the two biggest shoe companies in New Zealand need to be more open about their efforts to safeguard both employees and the environment.

Despite the fact that Kiwis cofounded Allbirds – not to mention its reputation as a leader in sustainable footwear – the reason for Allbirds’ low rating is the company’s lack of transparency regarding factories and its workers’ wages and working conditions.

According to the study, very few shoe companies have made a public commitment to working toward a living wage, and none of them can demonstrate that they pay employees a living wage.

The research consistently shows that paying a living wage is the area that performs the worst, although this is the change that would have the most significant overall impact on workers’ lives.

The study also shows how the world’s footwear industry is seriously harming the environment. Only 20 per cent of businesses have published an emissions reduction target and decarbonization strategy under the current UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, despite the industry’s 1.4 per cent contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Of this year’s low results, Tearfund advocacy specialist, Morgan Theakston, said she truly wishes Tearfund had a positive story to tell – “but this year we don’t”.

“However, we are hopeful that this will change. We’ve pressured the clothing industry for years and have seen progress.”

She said that with such low scores, it seems shoe companies have barely begun adopting the best practices that we’ve come to expect in the apparel industry.

“But from our conversations with them, it’s clear that many are interested, capable and willing to take action. We hope this research becomes a catalyst for meaningful change in the New Zealand footwear industry.”

Tearfund believes the most ethical and sustainable footwear collection is the one you already own and urges Kiwis to live by the Five Rs: Reduce, Re-Wear, Repair, Re-Home, and Raise Your Voice.

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen is a graduate of Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities with a major in English linguistics and literature. She is a writing enthusiast with a passion for culture, languages, and the environment.