Ethical footwear

So, I’m getting close to needing a new pair of shoes for work. The last pair I bought are starting to get a bit ragged and worse for wear. So I’ve started to do a little bit of research into ethical footwear, to see where things are at on that front.

SA8000 and K-Swiss

My first thought was to check out K-Swiss who were SA8000 accredited last time I checked. SA8000 was intended as an independently verified standard for labour rights. I can’t seem to find any reference to SA8000 related to K-Swiss now, so I can only assume they’ve slipped off the wagon.

The information I found last time I checked (about 3 years ago) was hard to find, and the Social Accountability International website remains pretty much useless to actually find out consumer-beneficial information about accredited companies and/or products.

In the time since I last spent time researching these things I’ve also heard and read some bad things about SA8000 – along the lines of ‘nice idea, but didn’t quite hit the mark’. So no luck there…

So I checked out some other popular footwear brands I like such as Merrell and Salomon. Neither of these companies has any information about their CSR policy that I could find, nor could I find any reliable research or information via Google (except for this little tidbit related to Salomon about shoe companies disclosing their audits.)

Worn Again and No Sweat sneakers

So I started looking around. Dave at work pointed me to Worn Again, a UK company that makes shoes from 99% recycled materials, including seat belts and firemens uniforms.

They have a limited range that look kinda cool, but it’s very hard to tell without seeing the product in real life (a difficult proposition in Australia). They’re also very expensive – around $200 (incl. shipping) for a style of shoe that usually goes for between $50 and $100 less than that.

I also recalled the No Sweat sneakers which are union made and a styled after the popular (though decidedly un-ethical) Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. I’m not exactly a fashion victim, but Chuck Taylors have never really suited me, so I’m not so keen on the No Sweat offering.

What about Nike?

I remembered that Nike had done some interesting stuff with their Considered products – significantly reducing waste and chemical use, as well as experimenting with recycled materials. I saw the Humara at a store in Sydney and I wanted to find out more.

I also recalled hearing somewhere that after the successful campaign against the treatment of workers who produced products for Nike (among others) that Nike had actually made good progress to improve their track record. So I did a bit of research and found Nike’s corporate sustainability report for the 05-06 financial year.

It’s an interesting read, with clear targets for carbon emissions (carbon neutral for Nike owned facilities and business travel by 2011), environmentally friendly production (17% reduction in footwear waste by 2011 and 30% reduction in packagin) and supply chain auditing – for working conditions (eliminate excessive overtime in all contract factories by 2011 and 30% of their supply chain being properly audited).

What’s interesting about Nike’s statement is they acknowledge that monitoring alone isn’t working and that to change practices the entire industry needs to engage. So they’ve publicly published the details of all their factories and called on other companies to do the same so they can work together to improve conditions.

They also claim that the Considered ethos is being brought into their general operations, rather than continuing as a distinct product line. I think this is positive and negative: positive because it means their entire product range will (eventually) become more environmentally friendly, and that it recognises the principle that environmentally friendly can improve their bottom line; negative because it will become harder for the conscious consumer to determine which products are good for the environment, and which ones aren’t.

I also think it’s a shame because it means it’s harder to “vote with your dollars” – at least with the Considered line, a purchase pretty clearly indicates that you care about the environmental benefits of the product. If I buy the next Air Zoom Affinity, am I buying it because I want the next Air Zoom Affinity, or because I care about the environment?

In steps the cynic

For a giant like Nike to be developing an agenda that, on the surface at least, is very promising and progressive is great to see. But that’s when my cynicism kicks in. How real is all of this? How much of this is just marketing spin, and how much is real progress? Why will it take a whole 5 years to clean up just 30% of the supply chain? And so on…

The Clean Clothes Campaign includes this tidbit in their press release relating to Oxfam’s Offside! report:

Sportswear is big business and brands like Nike, Reebok, adidas, Puma, ASICS and FILA make big profits and spend hundreds of millions of Euro on marketing and sponsorship of big-name athletes. Meanwhile, the Asian workers who make the sneakers and sports gear are doing it tough. They struggle to meet their families’ basic needs and many are unable to form or join unions without discrimination, dismissal or violence.

Makes you wonder what would happen if they funneled a few percent of their sponsorship budgets towards solving the issue – would we see faster progress?

What to do?

So I’m left with a dilemma. Do I go for a pair of shoes I don’t like but know their ethically OK? Do I risk $200 on a pair of shoes I can’t try on or check out? Or do I give Nike the benefit of the doubt and support their efforts to clean up their act?

I’m still undecided. If you have any thoughts, I’d be interested to hear them…

P.S. as some of you know I’ve been interested in ethical clothing and footwear for some time. In my reading travels I’ve recently found Nau – I read about them in Fast Company. Very cool – worth checking out. I’d really like to try on their cleanline jacket and courier windshirt. If only they had a store in oz…

MSF petition

Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) is running a petition asking pharmaceutical company Novartis to drop a law suit against the Indian government. The case would result in affordable versions of Novartis drugs to become unavailable.

Pharmaceutical company Novartis is taking the Indian government to court. If the company wins, millions of people across the globe could have their sources of affordable medicines dry up.

If you can spare a minute please consider adding your name.

GetUp! launch new site

Last night I caught up with a bunch of NGO webbies for beers and dinner and Nick from GetUp! mentioned that they’d just launched a new site. Looks very cool – nice and big 🙂

Dead in Iraq

This is pretty amazing.

More detail at SMH:

As the game [America’s Army – an interactive project funded by the Pentagon which it uses to enlist recruits] continues around him after he is killed – and usually under a hail of abuse from the other players – DeLappe types in the name, age, service branch and the date of death of each soldier.

Oz in 30 seconds

GetUp have launched Oz in 30 seconds – subtitled “Political ads authorised by you”. It’s a competition to create a 30 second political ad:

This is a chance to show us your Australia by making a 30 second political ad, which we will air on national prime time television during the lead up to the federal election.

In 30 seconds, show us a slice of your vision: perhaps it’s a call to action on an issue close to your heart; or maybe an idea that brings us closer to the Australia you want to live in; or your take on a major policy or event, rather than the spin you’ve been fed.

The title of the comp suggests it’s inspired by MoveOn.org’s successful Bush in 30 seconds competition. Though GetUp have wisely chosen to not focus on one particular candidate.

So, if you’ve got a concept, get it up 🙂

Earth Hour results

Well – Earth Hour was a lot of fun, and a roaring success.

Check out the official press release for more detail, but the highlights are:

  • An estimated 2 million Sydneysiders participated by switching off their lights or taking other energy saving measures;
  • A 10.2% drop in energy usage across the Sydney CBD;
  • A significant drop in energy usage across Western Sydney – the same amount of electricity required to power 6500 homes.

Ang and I walked through Circular Quay for the start of Earth Hour, then attended the WWF fundraiser event.

On the bus on the way to the Quay, I started noticing the difference at around World Square, with Ernst & Young having their lights off. IAG was amazingly dark.

When we got the the Quay, AXA and AMP were both in darkness. A lot of the restaurants around the Quay were also candlelit.

It was both eery and cool and exciting to be walking through the city. You really could notice the difference. I’ve heard a report of a cab driver thinking there was a city blackout…

The Earth Hour Flickr group has some great shots. The before and after of Centrepoint is great, as is the blurry one at the end. Although side-by-side they don’t look as impressive, when you overlay one after the other the difference is amazing!

What’s really cool is a lot of the businesses remained in darkness all weekend – meaning an even bigger energy saving. Integral noted the same thing in the areas where they operate.

Anyways – had a great night, and it feels wonderful to be part of the team that made it happen. I’ll remember it fondly for a long, long time methinks…

Bring Hicks Home

Amnesty International have just launched a very clever site as part of their campaign to Bring David Hicks home.

They have a “cell” – the same as the one David Hicks has been held in for 5 years without trial – that they are touring around the country with. Visitors to the cell are presented with a “passport” explaining David’s situation, and once in the cell, they can leave a video message, which is then presented on the Bring David Hicks home website.

If you have visited the cell, you can find your video by using the search/filter options on the site.

I think the site is very good – helping to bring home the reality of Hicks’ situation and allowing people to connect in a more emotional way with what is often presented as a legal or political issue.

I also love the fact that the site uses YouTube for video hosting – a fantastic use of participant media.

The site was launched yesterday by Digital Eskimo – who also helped WWF build the Future is man made site. Nice work!

Update: GetUp have also just launched a new video as part of their campaign on the same issue.