Where Am I Wearing Wednesday: Shoes
By Kelsey Timmerman
May 27, 2009
Today my feet are nice and cozy in a pair of Merrell slippers. Like 90 percent of shoes, they were made in China. But it’s not just shoes that I want to talk about today, but feet too.
Merrell’s corporate code of conduct:
I couldn’t find one on their site. Contact them and ask them what’s up with that: The environment and labor practices both factor into my shopping decisions.
I scanned your website for your corporate code of conduct and couldn't find one. Could you please direct me to it?
(I’ve sent this already and received a response. Let’s see if anyone else gets one and then we’ll compare. My response seemed kind of canned.)
Labor conditions in the shoe industry in China: Well, it is China. When I visited there in 2007, I met workers who put in nearly 100 hours per week, even though the Chinese labor law stated they weren’t to work more than 44 hours. The workers would clock out and then go back to work, as if making our shoes is a privilege.
Still, going barefoot sucks and non-Made in China shoe options are limited.
I was speaking to a group of Labor Studies faculty awhile back and the subject of fair trade shoes came up. I stated that I haven’t seen a pair of fair trade shoes in which I would run a marathon (note: I was recently ask to run a marathon and am considering it). They found this remark distasteful, but because they couldn’t directly argue the matter, they said, “Maybe we need to change our lifestyle – stop running marathons.” Now there is a campaign I wouldn’t want to touch: Stop Exercising! We Americans are tubby enough already.
Our Feet: Today you can’t turn on the news without hearing something about our carbon footprint. Even my favorite TV show, 24, has reduced their carbon footprint and now claims to be carbon neutral. This is great. More and more corporations are jumping on board and offering environmentally-friendly products. I’ve seen shoes made from hemp, others glued with glue that does less harm, and shoes packed in boxes that are 100 percent post-consumer recycled. As an engaged consumer, I’m happy to have these options. Still, I want more. What about the feet? We care about our footprint on the world, but what about our impact on one another. Saving the environment is in style, but concern for the workers who make our shoes isn’t. Don’t believe me? Call up any shoe company and ask them how they reduce their impact on the environment. They’ll likely have a long list of ways their trying to do this. Then ask them about what they are doing to ensure that the workers who make their shoes are being treated fairly. You’ll soon find yourself lost in the corporate phone chain. I’m glad to have the option of buying environmentally-friendly shoes, but what I’d really like to see is a pair of socially-conscious shoes. Know of any?
Here are a few that have been brought to my attention:
Tom’s shoes: Would make a good replacement for my house slippers, but not tennis shoes
Sole Rebels: Ethical footwear from Ethiopia
Of course, I wouldn’t want to run a marathon in Tom’s or Sole Rebels shoes, but I’m not really sure that I want to run a marathon at all. I’m worried about my feet.
Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. He has flat feet.