Sustainable Shoes

August 14th, 2010

I’ve been pondering how my shoe shopping decisions can be both kind to the environment and to the people that make them. Though buying quality second-hand shoes is suggested as being most sustainable, the original shoe may not have been made sustainably. I depend on comfortable, well made shoes and wear them til they won’t stay on my feet or the soles are worn through.

On the human rights front, most shoes seem to be made in China, South Korea Indonesia other countries with a history of poor worker rights. Sadly, even those made in more developed countries are often made by exploited recent immigrants such as in Italy. If yo

Employee dismissal for asking for better wages & working conditions is occurring in Adidas, Nike contract plants and those of their suppliers such as Freetrend. Sadly they have a history of moving their contracted manufacturing to another country, with poorer labor rights enforcement, when profits are challenged. Oliberté offers ethical & locally sourced leather sneaks which may be my next purchases. New Balance seems to be the only major brand that effectively monitors to human rights at the manufacturing level.

Smaller companies, including those that make vegan shoes are under even more financial pressure to keep manufacturing costs down and often do not even know who their manufacturers actually are. Verite,Workers\’ Rights Consortium (WRC) WRC (Workers’ Rights Consortium created by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) formed independently of corporations and plans to focus exclusively on the part of the industry producing college apparel. FLA (Fair Labor Association) does factory monitoring though it is funded by Nike & other manufacturers with less than stellar sweatshop reputations.

The second piece are the materials and chemicals used in manufacturing. Leather is my material of choice because I have very sweaty feet and it breathes well and is very strong. Sadly the human and environmental by-products of tanning are well documented. I do favor a simple shape with few individual leather pieces on the presumption that less leather must be used to make it and fewer seams to break down.

Tom\’s Shoes has young, causal offerings and donates a pair for each pair sold; each factory is periodically audited by a third-party inspector.

I’m going to post this unfinished but hope to get back when I’ve done more research. In the meantime, don’t shop before thinking about options. ¬†I look for those that might be made in the USA or EU on the presumption that there are stronger worker rights. There are many Fair Trade choices online. Campaigns for ethical treatment of workers include the Not For Sale fighting the global slave trade which includes economic slavery in company plants.