Q: Where can I find fair trade shoes?
A: If the shoe fits, do you buy it? I can tell you finding footwear to fit my size 11 requirements is no easy... well, you know. But tracking down ethically made shoes has thankfully gotten a little easier over the course of my years at Ecoholic - a major relief considering the newest sweatshop allegations hot off the assembly line.
Just last week, War on Want, a UK-based anti-poverty organization, released a scathing report detailing Adidas, Nike and Puma's exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. The brands, which sponsor athletes and teams for the Games, were caught sourcing from five factories that failed to pay the nation's basic minimum wage (on average, they paid workers 25 cents an hour).
The report, entitled Race To The Bottom, also documented forced overtime - two-thirds of those interviewed clocked over 60 hours a week (another violation of Bangladeshi law) - as well as verbal abuse and widespread sexual harassment.
In response, Adidas said it's mobilized a team of specialists to investigate the claims and that its first priority is to safeguard workers from abuse and uphold their legal entitlements.
No doubt, big shoe brands like Nike and Adidas have become much more responsive to labour rights activists since the early days of sweatshop exposés in the 90s. But the War on Want report is a reminder that the world of globalized production is still full of serious labour violations.
Looking for something that comes with a few more labour guarantees? Check out the certified fair trade, middleman-free loafers, ballet and boat shoes, sandals, lace-ups and Ugg-style boots by soleRebels. These Ethiopian-made toe-huggers are guaranteed to make your feet and heart feel good, especially since they're made with recycled tire soles, artisan-spun organic cotton, jute and free-range leather. (They come in vegan and not-so-vegan options; solerebelsfootwear.co).
Oliberté doesn't have fair trade certification, but it was started by the Canadian founder of MBAs Without Borders to create fair-paying jobs in Africa (oliberte.com). Its stylish leather sneakers and shoes are also totally free of factory-farmed animal hides. Instead, leather comes from free-roaming animals.
Both companies' teach-a-man-to-fish (or in this case make shoes) models have been labelled the antithesis of Toms' famous buy-a-shoe, donate-a-shoe model, though Toms says that it employs fair trade practices at its factories in China, Argentina and Ethiopia (toms.ca).
Adbusters' Blackspot sneakers and boots are still the front-running corporate butt-kickers of the footwear world, sticking it to Converse, Nike and friends seven years after the shoes were first launched. The vegan, John Fluevog-designed sneaks and unswooshed boots are made of organic hemp in a unionized factory in northern Pakistan (adbusters.org)
For more Converse-alternatives, made from fair trade certified organic cotton, as well as flip-flops and green rubber boots made from certified fair trade rubber, see the U.S.-based Autonomie Project (autonomieproject.com).
All these styles too casual for your liking? Fear not, being fairly footed doesn't mean relegating yourself to sneaks and sandals for the rest of your life. Ethicalocean.com has a drop-dead gorgeous collection of people-, planet- and animal-friendly shoes. Along with brands like Oliberté, the website carries fashionista-favoured names like Neuaura animal-friendly footwear, which comes from an enviro-responsible, unionized factory in Brazil. They ship from the U.S. (neuaurashoes.com).
For top European labour standards, check out the funky offerings of El Naturalista (elnaturalista.com) at indie shops like Trove. Its veggie-dyed footwear with recycled and natural latex soles are made at its own partly unionized factories in Spain and Morocco.
On the made-in-USA front, you'll find sustainably sexy Mohop sandals handmade in a Chicago workshop from plantation woods and sold with interchangeable ribbons (including some made from fair trade saris). With seven ways to tie 'em, you're getting, well, 49 shoes in one (available at Fresh Collective stores in T.O.)
If you're looking for something local in origin, your options are more limited, since most shoe factories packed up and left years ago. However, La Canadienne, in Montreal, is still going strong, producing shoes and boots with chrome-free dyes and water-based glues (LaCanadienneshoes.com).
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