Vegan Running Shoes – Considering The Human Animal
2011/11/09 14 Comments
First we found manufacturers selling athletic shoes that contained no animal products and byproducts. Second, among those manufacturers were a select few whose manufacturing and supply chain policies resulted in less damage to the environment on which all animals rely. Third, and now finally, we discover which among that shortlist of manufactures comes closest to sharing our concern for the human animal.
I contacted our shortlist of manufacturers with the following question related to human rights and labor practices: I understand that shoes are often made in other countries by outsourced suppliers, so it is important to me to buy shoes from companies that maintain high labor standards in their foreign factories or that make similar demands of their suppliers. Is this the case with (manufacturer name)? Please describe your labor standards and policies regarding suppliers, such as SA 8000 or others.
Like almost all clothing sold in America, every one of the brands shown below cuts costs by employing independent vendor factories in the third world. Because third world labor laws are often less strident than our own the use of labor in such places may lead to a strong potential for child labor and many other labor abuses. If we consumers don’t choose wisely we might end up supporting those abuses with our own money when we buy things. Unfortunately most of us have been conditioned to look only at the sticker price of items, not at the real costs paid by animals, the environment, and people all over the world.
Most companies aren’t used to being asked these questions, so it’s especially important that we ask them more often. That way, companies begin to understand that customers care about animals, the environment, and human rights, and if they want our business they’d better start caring too.
Manufacturer: Worthy Human Rights Policy?
éS Footwear: No
Etnies Shoes: No
There you have it: for this season, the athletic shoes most in line with vegan values are made by Brooks. The manufacturer’s full responses are as follows:
We contacted Asics several times via e-mail but did not reply. Asics were very slow to reply to previous queries, so this was disappointing but not a surprise. Odd; in this slow economy you’d think companies would try harder than ever to appear responsive to customer inquiries. I would love to support Asics because of their outstanding environmental policy, but now wonder if Asics might be employing children, or if the workers making Asics shoes are forced to do eighty-hour, seven-day workweeks? We have no way of knowing.
éS Footwear: No
Etnies Shoes: No
These three companies have the same corporate owner, Sole Technology Inc. We contacted them several times but no reply was received. As with Asics, we can only guess at the state of the labor conditions where Emerica, éS Footwear, and Etnies are made. Looks like Sole Technology is just in it for the money after all.
These two companies have the same corporate owner. I received a cut-and-paste response to my question literally within seconds. It was likely auto-generated based on keywords in my query. The auto-reply has a lot of unfortunate holes in it that corporate owner Wolverine World Wide is hoping will be buried under lots of words.
Thank you for your inquiry about Merrell products. As an outdoor brand, we recognize our connection and responsibility to a healthy, sustainable, environment and lifestyle.
Quality is critical to our customers and us, and this is something that we will not settle on. When we are developing products and selecting facilities for production we search worldwide for the best qualified facilities with the skills and equipment to match our needs. To achieve consistent quality with efficiencies and keep production near many of the resources needed for our products most of our production is done outside of the U.S.
Our product line is very much driven by technology innovations and technical products. More than half of the leather that we use is sourced from tanneries that have either BLC or ISO 14001 (or both) certifications. Both assess the compliance to environmental and work standards. Merrell is currently working towards sourcing leather exclusively from tanneries that have these certifications.
Merrell and Wolverine World Wide Inc., our corporate parent, make products in factories all over the world, including China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, Dominican Republic, and the U.S. As a company we take human and workers rights very seriously. We were one of the first multi-national companies to publish our “Engagement Criteria for Partners and Sources” that define the guiding principles we value when selecting our sources. To learn more please visit our corporate website at http://www.wolverineworldwide.com/default.asp
We follow a program that begins with an internal evaluation prior to any prototypes or samples being made. Once this is acceptable, we arrange for an independent, third-party audit that seeks compliance to local labor laws. We then enter into a signed manufacturing agreement with each factory acknowledging their understanding of our compliance guidelines. We continually perform audits and we issue corrective action plans where needed. We take any corrective action plan very serious and follow through to make sure the issue is resolved. If at any point throughout this process a factory fails to meet our minimum standards in any regard it automatically disqualifies them from being considered.
We are also a member of the Conservation Alliance, and recently made a pledge of over $500,000. Please visit the following website for additional information.
Again, thank you for your inquiry regarding Merrell products. Have a nice day.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.
Consumer Relations Account Specialist
T 616.863.4716 F 888.306.0936
9341 Courtland Drive NE – HC109
Rockford MI 49351
I felt free to contact them for more information, but Wolverine World Wide also felt free to not respond with any. We both had a nice day.
I searched online for their “Engagement Criteria for Partners and Sources” and found a document titled VCP 7.5.1 – Wolverine World Wide, Inc Vendor Manual. The document makes it clear that Wolverine World Wide demands very little of their third party vendors other than that they abide by local or national laws (if they even exist, and no matter how lax). In other words, if the supplier is in Dhaka, the supplier is asked to abide by local Dhaka and national Bangladeshi law. Other than that, Wolverine’s labor-related concerns barely filled half of one page of paper. To their credit, they did ask that workers should be at least 16 years old, and should not normally be asked to work more than 60 hours per week. In some places that’s progress, but clearly we can do better than that.
To Cushe, Merrell, and all Wolverine World Wide brands, I have to say that telling drivers in Shanghai to abide by the Chinese rules of the road doesn’t make them safe drivers. Telling vendors in Shanghai to abide by Chinese labor laws doesn’t make them safe employers. Despite how little Wolverine World Wide pays for labor, consumers pay a lot for your products, and we expect a lot in return.
You’re probably as surprised as I am; Brooks are owned by Russell (yes, the sweatsuit maker) who had well-publicized labor violations in Honduras. In this case though Russell does not appear to have set the tone for Brooks. Even before contacting Brooks I found the following on their web site:
“Have countries that make Brooks shoes ratified and given effect to the core International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions?
All Brooks products are designed and engineered in the U.S. and manufactured in Southern China. China has ratified four of the fundamental ILO conventions on discrimination (C.100 , C.111) and child labor (C.138, C.182). Since China has not ratified all of ILO’s principals, we require our factories to sign a “Working Conditions Policy and Commitments” document in which they agree to be in compliance with the local labor laws (including age requirements, fair wages); not employ child/forced/slave labor; and provide adequate food, housing, and medical coverage to all employees.”
Brooks’ Approach to Corporate Responsibility
A search online found no copy of Brooks’ “Working Conditions Policy and Commitments.” It’s possible that because all of their manufacturing is done in China that this document may be written in Mandarin. Brooks did reply to my query though:
“Thank you for your interest in Brooks’ supply chain responsibility. The goal of our Corporate Responsibility (CR) Program is to ensure that all those who touch our product are provided workplaces that are fair, safe, non-discriminatory, and free of child/bonded/forced labor, as well as to educate our suppliers/factories on social and environmental principles and work together toward continuous improvement in these areas. Please know that Brooks is committed to conducting our business in accordance with the highest standard of business ethics and respect for human rights, and in compliance with all applicable laws. We require our suppliers, licensees, distributors, and other business partners to meet these high standards, which are listed in our Code of Conduct.
Our CR program has three fundamental objectives:
1. Understand and document factory policies and procedures
· In order to ensure compliance to our social standards (as well as local labor laws), Brooks employs internal and third-party factory auditing through organizations such as WRAP and Specialized Technology Resources (STR) to monitor compliance. This includes forbiddance of harassment, abuse, child labor, forced labor, discrimination, unfair wages and benefits, and unsafe/unhealthy working environments.
· Monitoring is performed at 100% of our direct source and licensee factories, at least on an annual basis.
· Child/bonded/forced labor, abuse, and non-payment of wages are all zero tolerance issues.
· Audits are unannounced and include a physical inspection of the factory, review of documents and procedures, and employee interviews.
2. Educate factory managers on the labor law requirements of the country of manufacture and the Brooks standards
· We encourage all suppliers to attend our annual Supplier Partnership Conference in Asia. Training focuses on wages & hours, health & safety, root cause analysis, and applying best practices, environmental compliance, and security.
· Training has improved factories’ commitment to Brooks’ compliance program and helped strengthen our partnership with suppliers.
3. Encourage necessary changes to meet those standards
· If issues are found, we work closely with our suppliers, ensuring that they address the root cause of issues, not just simply fix the problem. The goal is to implement systemic changes to prevent issues from occurring in the future.
· The supplier develops a corrective action plan and is assessed against its progress in implementation.
· All findings must be remediated in a timely manner
We hope this information offers you a better understanding of—and peace of mind about—our CSR approach and the importance we place on people, procedures, and products involved in every step of the way.
Also, it’s important to note that Brooks’ first CSR/Sustainability Report communicating our responsible sourcing practices—including metrics, action areas, and priorities—is presently in development, and will be posted on our website by the end of 2011. In the meantime, for more information regarding our sourcing practices, please visit http://www.brooksrunning.com/Running+Responsibly/.
Corporate Responsibility Manager
t | 425 489 2489
f | 425 483 8181
BROOKS SPORTS, INC.
19910 North Creek Parkway | Suite 200
Bothell, Washington USA | 98011-8215″
Does this give us much in the way of specific information? Honestly, no. Monitoring is great but there are no details of what specific standards are being monitored besides national law. What is meant by Brooks’ “social standards?” This sounds a lot like Wolverine World Wide’s “half page” so far. And encouraging vendors to attend training is not the same as training them.
Then Brooks hit something impressive: they are designing policies and related actions to address causes rather than just symptoms of social injustice, and hold vendors accountable for future compliance. That does more than change workplaces – that has the potential to change societies. Additionally, they are building transparencies into this process and are in the process of producing a corporate sustainability report. Such a report gives Brooks something to be proud of, and shows us where they think their boundaries are – so we can push them to do even better.
I searched out a pair of Brooks, eventually choosing the Glycerine 9s and have been happy with them so far. Like most guys I normally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about shoes, but I’m very happy to have done so this time. Now I know I’ve made an educated and reasonable compromise between fulfilling my needs as a consumer and supporting my values as a vegan.
Imagine the incredible impact if we made all of our decisions this way.