As consumers, we buy goods, use them, and often think nothing of where or how such goods are manufactured. With the globalization of our economy, many American companies have turned to manufacturing goods overseas, where production costs are lower. Unfortunately, this has precipitated the exploitation of foreign laborers by massively profitable American companies. I became very interested in the shoes I had on my feet, TOMS. Although TOMS outsources labor, they do so to augment the lives of those in impoverished countries through strict ethical production codes and donating shoes in the regions they are produced, as having shoes improves quality of life.
The TOMS I found in my closet were made in Vietnam, informing me that TOMS is a company that outsources their labor; I was interested in how this was done. TOMS, or “Tomorrow’s Shoes,” is a for-profit organization that manufactures shoes with the slogan “One for One.” For every pair bought, a pair is donated to people who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I found that the TOMS website has a supply-chain transparency section that details their efforts to end all kids of forced labor, including prison labor, indentured labor, and human trafficking. Manufacturing in Ethiopia, Kenya, India, China, and Vietnam, TOMS employs very tight regulations to eliminate risks of slavery and human trafficking within their facilities. These include interviewing factory workers without management presence and anonymous factory employee surveys to help each employee voices their opinions and concerns. TOMS works exceptionally hard to make sure that their employees are treated ethically and paid fairly.
TOMS illustrates how providing shoes to poor families induces a sociological shift. Blake Mycoskie, TOMS’ founder, believes that providing shoes was the first step to making a difference poor communities. Education is a privilege that most families in developing countries do not have access to, as one of the requirements is to have a proper uniform and proper footwear. With TOMS “One for One” program, shoes are delivered to children in impoverished areas. This provides education, the health benefits of covering one’s feet, and community development, as TOMS also incorporates this “One for One” idea with glasses, apparel, water, and much more. A young girl from Malawi who received TOMS says she feels “smart and presentable with new shoes,” and is empowered to follow her dream of becoming a nurse. Not only is TOMS changing the opportunities of poor families, but also how those individuals feel about themselves, which positively impacts those around them. Shoes are a prop used to distinguish identity; in low-income countries they are a symbol of power and education. Shoes are used for much more than just walking, they are used to help build confidence and reflect identity.
Large shoe companies are commonly accused of exploiting foreign workers through unethical labor practices; TOMS is a notable exception to this claim. TOMS work in Ethiopia, India, Kenya, China, and Vietnam demonstrates that outsourcing labor does not always equate to exploitation of poor communities. Through its “One for One” program, TOMS provides shoes in a way that impacts much more than physical health. When living in poverty, new shoes open the door to education and greater confidence, both of which serve both the individual and society as a whole.