TOMS…the one company to buy from that is inherently doing good, right? One pair of shoes gives one pair to a cute child in need! Really, there is more to the story than a simple slogan of charity. They have recently expanded their products beyond shoes and into eyewear, coffee, and even FairTrade jewelry and clothing. However, there are some long-standing issues with TOMS that the company has been getting bad press about. To their credit, they have made progress and are working on orienting the company conduct around their original mission.
Since the start, there has been the question of whether or not TOMS is doing good thoughtfully with their one-for-one purchasing program. Do the people in the areas where they are giving the one-for-one shoes really need shoes? Will shoes really help reduce poverty? Is giving shoes taking away jobs from local people who make shoes for a living in the poor areas? Is the company framing poor people as helpless and incapable? This is a situation in which we must consider whether our good intentions are actually helping and developing well But that’s a different story, really. Let’s talk about the ethicality of their production.
TOMS wasn’t producing any of their products in countries that they gave away shoes in, which logically are the countries in which the communities needed the factory jobs. But, recently TOMS vowed to move 1/3 of their production into countries in which they deliver shoes, such as Ethiopia, Haiti, and Kenya. Not only that, but they exceeded that 1/3 goal in 2015.
In terms of transparency, the company is a bit wishy-washy, but offers small segments of information about each of the factories they have in these countries. All of these factories run under a Suppliers Code of Conduct set by TOMS that covers wages, hours, and other pieces of labor rights. They also operate under the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which affects wages, trafficking laws, etc. But, although TOMS has a labor factory code of conduct and works against trafficking, they don’t verify compliance in the factories they source from. The code of conduct and transparency act are great steps forward, but verifying and demanding proof of compliance with such standards would show a great deal of care in what the real issues at stake are. However, though they don’t really come down hard with compliance, they use a third-party auditor, which increases accountability and chances that the factories are doing a decent job following the standards set in place.
Finally, as more of an informational side note, the shoes that TOMS gives away aren’t just like the ones we buy in the US. I think we would all like to cling to a picture of a poor woman in India receiving the same pair of flowered canvas slip-ons we got on sale at Nordstrom, but that’s not how it works. The company is attentive to making shoes that are more durable than the thin-soled canvas shoes sold commercially. TOMS also states that they are working towards producing more and more of their products with vegan materials. Their boxes and other shipping materials are 80% recycled as well. So, they are also fairly environmentally conscious.
So, TOMS is a company founded around values and a mission with good intentions. However, as it ages, the company is learning to truly enact them. Like most companies, they aren’t perfect, but are moving in the right direction. In the future, we would like to see TOMS hold the factories they outsource from to a higher standard of proof of compliance. This creates more transparency, trust, and accountability from consumers who are paying attention to their company ethics.
Also, next time you buy a pair of TOMS, we encourage you to think deeper behind the pat-on-the-back good deed you’re doing for someone living in poverty.
Written by: Madeleine Williams