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Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Research Turns Up The Heat On Footwear

While New Zealand’s clothing industry has faced intense scrutiny leading to positive change, shoe companies have slipped under the radar. This year, Tearfund New Zealand scored 25 top footwear companies representing over 90 brands on their efforts to address worker exploitation and environmental impact in their supply chains. Launched today by Tearfund, the exposé article “Footwear: An Industry Laced with Exploitation” dives into the issues in the footwear industry and reveals how companies scored out of 100.

The highest score was Adidas with 58.30%, while four companies, Nine West, Novo Shoes, Windsor Smith, and Ngahuia Group (Hannahs, Number 1 Shoes), tied for the lowest spot, scoring 0%.

Overland Footwear (Mi Piaci, Merchant 1948, Deuce) received 12.82%

Ngahuia Group (Hannahs, Number 1 Shoes) scored 0%

Allbirds scored 26.72%, just above the overall average of 22.72%

The message for Aotearoa New Zealand is clear: New Zealand’s two largest footwear companies need to be more transparent about their efforts to protect workers and the environment. While Kiwi co-founded Allbirds is known as a key player in sustainable footwear, its low score is due to the company’s lack of transparency around its factories, wages, and working conditions.

Tearfund Advocacy Specialist, Morgan Theakston, says, “Maybe they are doing well behind closed doors, but with the majority of fashion supply chain workers not earning enough to meet their basic needs, transparency around factories and wages must be the standard. Real sustainability has to include sustainable wages for the people who make our shoes.”

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The article reveals that no footwear companies can show they’re paying a living wage and few have a public commitment to working towards a living wage. Payment of a living wage is consistently the lowest performing area in the research, yet it is the change that would have the single greatest impact on improving the lives of workers.

“The fashion industry’s chronically low wages trap workers and their families in a cycle of poverty. This creates desperation, which increases vulnerability to exploitative conditions, such as forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery”, says Theakston.

The article also reveals that the global footwear industry is creating serious issues for the planet. Despite the industry’s contribution to 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, only 20% of companies have published an emissions reduction target and decarbonisation strategy in line with the current UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.

The research also exposes the industry’s responsibility for significant chemical pollution of the air and waterways, highlighting the leather industry as one of the most toxic industries in the world due to its contribution to exponential increases in cancer, respiratory diseases, skin ailments, and genetic disorders.

Waste from overproduction is another big issue. “The volume of shoes produced is unsustainable. We buy too many shoes and fast-fashion companies make even more shoes than we can buy, causing waste and encouraging the idea that shoes are disposable as soon as trends change”, says Theakston.

Our research showed that 64% cent of companies have not addressed any impacts of their shoes after they leave the store. Overland Footwear is the only company that has effectively addressed the impacts of overproduction.

Of this year’s low results, Theakston says, “I truly wish we had a positive story to tell, but this year we don’t. However, we’re hopeful that this will change. We’ve pressured the clothing industry for years and have seen progress. 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.

“Footwear: An Industry Laced with Exploitation (+ how to tread lighter for people and the planet)” can be read at tearfund.org.nz/ethicalfashion.

About Tearfund

We are Tearfund, a New Zealand faith-based aid and development organisation. Our faith is visible. It acts, it speaks, and it stands alongside those in need. Together with our partners on the ground and our supporters at home, we sponsor children, we restore, nourish and empower communities in need, and we protect the vulnerable from exploitation. We act and advocate against injustice and poverty overseas and call on New Zealanders to do the same. Assistance and care are always provided without bias or prejudice in terms of race, religion, caste, class, political beliefs or gender. And we’ve been doing it for more than forty years. www.tearfund.org.nz


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