Ethically manufactured running shoes?

I'm after a decent pair of running shoes (to train and run up to half marathon distance) but am concerned about sweatshop working conditions.

Allegedly, the working cnditions for Nike, Addidas, Reebok etc... are awful.

Does anyone know a good manufacturere who have an ethical code of conduct that they actually adhere to?

Many thanks


  • hmm - no-one's that great. New Balance do assemble most of their shoes in the UK (& some are vegan if that's an issue).
  • There are some New Balance shoes exclusive to JJB that are made in China :¬(
  • :(
    their website says which are made in EU though (mostly Keswick for shoes, Portugal for clothes).
    And anyway, surely proper runners wouldn't be seen dead in JJB ;)
  • Aren't Asics good? Not absolutely sure, but worth a look.
  • The New Balance running shoes are only stuck together in cumbria uppers to midsoles.

    the components are still all made in china
  • Tough one, check out a mag called ethical consumer, it does regular reviews of things and did one on shoes a while back. Basically most manufacturers are sh*te, it's more a question of who is least worse, seem to remember Saucony were okay and NB. As for Nike? Forget it
  • Are Nike really awful?

    I'm sure audits must have been done. I doubt 5 years olds are making the shoes.

    At a guess I'd say that the factory brings work to the region & pays above average wage.

    I'm for shopping ethically but on what evidence do you base the assumption that the likes of Nike, Asics et al are unethical?
  • In a westernised society such as ours we would agree that making people work at a very young age, and doing so for a poor wage would be uncalled for - but it's more accepted in other parts of the world where the economoy is not so good, and people are used to working this way. It's probably not thought of as so bad to these people doing the job, as it is to us. But of course, I could be wrong..

    However, don't get me wrong on this. I hate the thought too - it's exploitation, and everyone deserves a fair wage for their work. When larger companies act in this way, then it's obvious that saving money is the obvious motive (when considering how much such companies make, it does not need to be).

    To be blunt though, it wont stop me buying Nike, Adidas or other running manufacturer's shoes and clothing simply for the fact that they make good products that I can find good use in. But do I care to think about where it comes from, and think the issue is a touchy one? Yes, and we know it's not right.
  • Kieren, regarding Nike, I read No Logo by Naomi Klein which gave details of the unsafe working conditions and illegal proactises undertaken by Nike and other glocal manufactuteres(in extreme cases, workes are forced to work overtime, sometimes do 16 hou shifts and are inhected with amphatamines to keep them productive. Phil Knight et al don't stop at turnign a blind eye, they create smokescreens around the facts, coming out with policies aimed at improving their ethical image but which are not adhered to. I can't vouch for the validity for these first page googe links but they give a flavour of what Nike are up to... Marketing/CLIM041.htm

    Stuart G - even if you didn't give a monkesy about unethical practices ), does it not grind your gears that prices have not fallen in line with productin costs.

    I think that despit my principles I might end up buying unethically manufactured shoes. So which manufacturer would be the least unethical I wonder?
  • well, i go for NB as 'least worst'.
    Nike have improved since 'No Logo' - they started by improving their PR & not doing anything on the ground, but after they got found out for that too they do seem to have improved a bit.

    Anyone ideas about bike kit, or even useful places to do the research? I'm actually in charge of finding a new supplier of women's kit for the bike shop i work in, and would really like to find someone with at least some human rights / environmental standards (apart from my own feelings then i think it would be a good buisness decision for the shop).
    I've heard rumours that Pearl Izumi are not so bad, but does anyone have any basis for that? I can't even find a Europe website for them.
  • M60 Steve - Yes it does annoy me a bit. But *sometimes* I can ignore the price of products and simply assess their worth instead. The Garmin Forerunner 205 for example shouldn't cost as much as it does, but for what it can actually do as a device, outweighs what I paid for it I feel. It's the same with the other products - clothing or shoes - cheap they may not be, but if they do as they are meant to, and last, then there is value in that.

    Right I'll stop talking rubbish - basically yes it would be fairer if prices were cheaper since production costs aren't exactly high, but as a marketing strategy for a big company, it's clear that that would be a foolish move.

    If only it weren't all about money eh? We can only dream that sports manufacturers truly care about the individuals and not profit..
  • Thanks for the links M60 :)

    The first one is talking about issue 10 years ago. I'm pretty sure lots of multinationals that outsourced to poorer countries at that time. I don't think they gave a lot of thought to how these places were managed but I really think with public awareness as it is teh bigger companies that so many vilify have been forces to do well in these areas if not to be ethical then to protect their brand image.

    I think in terms of ethical shopping the cheap stuff we buy from highstreet chains like topman / topshop, H&M, Tesco, M&S etc need to be looked at too.

    I couldn't get the 2nd link to work - I couldn't seem to access a free version of the PDF
  • They are all still at it, Topman, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Addidas, Puma, Primark, BHS, blah blah blah...

    Their PR has improved but not much else.
  • A really interesting thread. It’s a question I've tried to find the answer to and came to a similar conclusion about ‘least unethical’ and tend to veer towards Ronhill and Brookes for clothing and New Balance for shoes.

    I have checked on and as far as I can see they don’t say anything about their ethical policy but I think they manufacture in Eastern Europe (is that more or less ethical that some other countries?!) and they are not a multi-national a ‘local’ company to me (Manchester) so I like to support them.

    At least some manufacturers are acknowledging some ethical issues

    I do own Nike stuff, it feels and fits really nice, but am making efforts to spend less with them. Have just checked their website and couldn’t find any ethical/code of conduct info.

    The current issue of ethical consumer does have a trainers buyers guide! My partner gets this mag so will report back!
  • Whilst it is certainly true that in the past, Nike et al have had real problems with child labour and, and have indulged in some pretty questionable labour practices, it is also fair to say that a lot of the criticism of them has not moved on either. Many of the facts touted about some of the working conditions are out of date, as Keiran found, and there is also the issue that Nike in particular tends to be targeted by NGO's looking to score points off the biggest name out there. As Keiran and M62 Steve both point out, there are a lot of smaller manufacturers have got away with some equally questionable practices because they haven't been targeted because it doesn't make such good headlines.

    Whilst Nike (looking at them in particular, as they seem to be the main source of irritation for most people) still have a long way to go, they really have made great strides in the last couple of years. In fact, in 2005 they took the very bold step of publishing a complete list of all the factories that they source from, so that anyone who wants to go and check them out is able to. This really is quite a big step, and one that no other company had done.

    Large companies have also suffered because a lot of the manufacturing they do is actually outsourced to other companies, often local ones, who do not have codes of conduct regarding labour practices etc. Which raises the question of how far down a supply chain an individual company's responsibility goes. Whilst in the past this has been used as a convenient shield (think Coca-Cola) for bad practices, the complexities of modern supply chains make being 100% sure of good practice in all operations almost impossible. If you don't believe me, there were suggestions that some of the Make Poverty History wristbands had been made in factories with very questionable labour practices....oh the irony!

    Anyway, companies are now working much more cleverly with local people to improve standards in factories etc. For example, a group of international companies, together with one of the Prince of Wales Charities and the Vietnamese government have been working together for the last 6 years in Vietnam to improve health and safety conditions in factories there - check out

    So yes, there is probably still a long way to go, but the picture is often not as black and white as some campaigners try to present it.

    You can check out information on this sort of thing in the Good Shopping Guide, which includes lots of information on a wide variety of products. A good company is Howies, - a small ethical but technical company based in Wales. Otherwise, why not drop a line to the big company that you like to buy kit from, telling them that you want them to be more ethical? Most websites have a feedback forum. And most big companies now produce annual corporate responsibility reports that will give you information about their policies and practices (although obviously these are mostly good-news stories, but some will tackle difficult issues).

    Phew - sorry for the lecture. Its a really interesting, complex topic, and one that I've looked at through my work - hence the rant. But its great that people want to take these things into consideration when buying - that's what forces companies to change.
  • Kitty D, that would be great if you let me know about The Ethical Cnsumer article on trainers!
  • Thanks gsm, a really interesting and informative post. Howies website looks good if a bit pricy, some nice bargains in the sale items though!
  • Ethical consumer magazine has a Ethiscore report on trainers, see Interesting. I am not sure that the ones that score well are running shoes though. My partner has a pair of the Blackspot sneaker [A] [O], they look great, but wouldn't be doing any mileage in them.

    No one stands out really

  • I say the Balckspor tones a while ago. Isn't the balckspot designed specifially to kick Phil Knight in the a**e?

    Thanks for the link KittyD.
  • I don't know if they sell Karhu running shoes in the UK, but they are made in Finland and Estonia. Karhu does make other products in Asia as well, but at least these new models (Karhu M1 and M2) are completely made in the EU.

    I've been running with Karhu M1's for the last year and as a normal / slightly pronating runner I've been really satisfied with them.
  • "looks good if a bit pricy"

    Ah the familar reply ...

    I remember when a lot of the brands of outdoor clothing I sell where made in UK, then the EU.

    It was very common to be asked where a product was made as the purchaser claimed it was important.

    Then they discovered that the "ethical" manufactured product was £10+ more (fleece) and could be as much as £50+ (waterproof). It saddens me to say that in 99% of cases they suddenly became less concerned when it was going to cost.

    Most manufaturers work on the same profit margins. If it sell for less it is either poor quality and / or made in less than perfect conditions.

    I am more concerned about the Lidl / Aldi / Supermarkets etc. of this world. With prices that cheap someone is getting a raw deal.

    I hold my hands up that in an idea world all my products would be made in "nice" factories. However I can't afford this with a young growing family.

    If I have to choose between local, organic food or EU produced shoes. The food wins every time ....

    Sometimes we have to prioritse, it isn't always easy.
  • In relation to the general principal of using Globalised production the issues are mixed and not as black and white as some would suggest:

    1. Labour is a fact of life for MOST children, most families are poor, earning per head, even in the fast developing countries of South East Asia adult incomes can be as little as $1000 per year. In the UK during the 1800s, when we industrialised, factory work was generally accepted as the solution to problem of the rural poor.

    2. Education over the age of 11 is not free. Some businesses provide or contribute to the education for younger workers after they have finished ther daily work, but most parents have to contribute to the cost of education of their children. So if work is taken away, these people lose there livelihoods.

    3. People in developing countries move to the cities, partly because the USA and the EU have farm subsidies that mean they over-produce and DUMP the surplus on the world market, lowering prices and as a consequence, the incomes of peopel in countries who cannot affort to subsidise there own farming communities!!

    4. These countries improve their standards over time: consider Taiwan; Singapore and South Korea where industrialisation happened more recently.

    OK so some companies are beter than others but is it about principles? If a business trades on the principle that it bahaves badly less often, no has to be the answer. I will continue to buy Asics shoes as they fit and perform best for me. They support my sport and that this part of the UK is important.
  • New Balance is a British company, and their shoes say 'Made in England' and proudly sport the Union flag. Buy British!
  • New Balance is an American Company. And as has been said many times before, the shoe uppers are glued to the midsole in this country, but the uppers are stitched together and the midsoles moulded in the far East.
  • Ah, have now read the rest of this thread (didn't see there was a previous page when I first opened it). Have to say I'm very disappointed if that's all true. Surely there are limits to what you can get away with saying in terms of advertising standards??
    On the one hand I think that at least with NB there's some UK involvement, on the other hand I think that's pretty deceitful marketing, so... basically I'm none the wiser.
    Looks like the over-riding factor is still just getting the shoes that are best for your feet.
  • I settles for Brookes the end. But when I have a lit of ethical manufacturers I will use them exclusively.
  • Dear M62,

    Good to see you have gone for a recognised global manufacturer as the reality is that it is more likely to have been manufactured ethically than a less recognised manufacturer. A lot has changed over the last 20 years and the large global manufacturers have listened to the issues that have gone on in these countries and have more often than not resolved these issues. You tend to find it is the smaller brands that are tending to slip under the radar and try to get away with things in order to compete with the larger global brands. Recognised global manufacturers are being watched so closely these days they have to make sure they are doing everything as ethically as possible, it is the brands that are delivering products at 'unbelieveable' prices that are probably cutting margins wafer thin somewhere in the production process in order to offer the prices they do.

    I have in the last 15 years spent time working in product development for major running shoe manufacturers and have visited many of the factories that have been the source of many of the complaints on this forum. Admittedly I personally would not want to do the job a lot of the guys are doing in these factories but the reality of the situation is that it is a different world to the one we live in. A job in one of the footwear factories in Southern China is quite often a sought after position as it brings with it job security as well as food and lodging. Yes the wages are very low in comparison to what you and I would accept, but once at the factory the money they earn is quite often purely their own as they do not have to worry about food and lodging. In fact a lot of the time a good percentage of the money is sent back to their fammilies who are struggling to make a living off the land.

    Price is also always an issue whenever the discussion turns to sportswear manufacturing, you know for sure as soon as any brand launches a new product (especially a football shirt) the Daliy Mail runs a story on how nasty the sports brands are, and how much these products actually cost to make. In some cases they are right, the actual material cost is low but they seem to always forget to mention the wages, overheads, packaging costs, cost of manufacturing (machinery etc), development costs, shipping costs, import duties, Insurance payments etc, all which are part of getting sports products to market. Then of course the retail margin is added on by the retailer which is totally dictated by the retailer as it is illegal for a manufacturer to set a retail price.

    It would be wonderful if we could all buy sports product that is sourced locally, however if you can find a manufacturing source that can deliver you the products to retail at the prices you are prepared to pay I would be very suprised, and certainly they would not be in business very long as it just is not economically possible. There is also the fact that if those footwear manufacturers were not spreading their manufacturing sources to the poorer areas of the world you are taking away an industry that is vital to the survival of many workers in these countries.

    Apologies for the mild rant but having worked in the industry it tends to annoy me a little that more often than not the people complaining about working conditions in footwear factories have never been to any of these factories and are the same people complaining about how much a pair of shoes cost (not on this particular thread I note). I can say for a fact than running shoe manufacturers margins are not great and are a lot less than a lot of other industries, the reality is if you want your shoes totally made in this country by people working a 38 hour week then be prepared to pay a lot more than you are at the moment!!
  • This has been a very interesting debate for me - as I have been waging my own personal war against Nike for a while now. Coincidentally, on my way to work tonight there was an interview with a journalist frmo the Irish Times or some such newspaper (I don't read broadsheet type newspapers) who has made a documentary recently about this and apparently it's the first time the backers of the documentary have not had any editorial influence. The reporter's own experiences mirror those of the pro-globalisation posters above. I have been buying my running gear in Aldi, and I think I may stop as I'm starting to realise the cost impact as stated by others here. I work in a world reknowned computer chip company and I know for a fact (cos I've worked over there) that my opposite number in the US makes almost twice as much as I do here (in Ireland) and yet I earn a very good wage for the country I live in, Celtic Tiger included. Anyway, the reporter who made this documentary made a very valid point on the radio show: If the standards and wages etc. were to be raised in many of these factories, it would raise the standard above those of teachers, doctors, nurses etc. in the same area/country. The result would be a lot of doctors/nurses/teachers leaving employment to go and work in the factory and hence would have a very negative knock on effect to the people we are trying to protect by being ethical! I think I will give up buying from Aldi and go back to the more expensive producers (during the sales)... aplogies for bad grammar/sentence structucre but I'm quite busy here in work at the moment... now my rice break is over I gotta get back to pushing that big stone wheel.....
  • JJB sports stock a big range of New Balance shoes made in UK.
  • kitty - thanks, good link.
    I think the 'best' actual running shoe on that list was Brooks, & they are only 10/20 :(
    this is depressing.

    oh well, i suppose running everywhere still works out better than buying a car, even if it does mean more shoes.
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