Trainers

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 47 brands of Trainers

We also look at supply chain policies, vegan brands, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Nike and our best buy recommendations. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying trainers:

  • Are they vegan? Two main things make footwear vegan – no leather and no animal-based glue. Vegan shoes come with a far lower cost in terms of the environment as well as animal rights, so are a good ethical option.

  • People before profits? Many footwear brands rely on sweatshop conditions to produce cheap shoes. Buy from companies that commit to fair conditions for the person who made your trainers.

Best Buys

Buy trainers from brands that don't exploit their workers:

Recommended buys

For trainers available on the high street, we also recommend the vegan options from ASICS, Merrell and Saucony.

What not to buy

Trainers often have a large ethical footprint, in terms of both the environment and human rights.

  • Are they made by a company that disregards workers rights in it supply chain? Look out for companies that get our best rating for Supply Chain Management in the People category.

  • Is it leather? Leather has a high cost in terms of the environment as well as animal rights. To reduce the carbon footprint of your trainer, avoid ones made from leather.

Companies to avoid

A number of well-known brands sit at the bottom of our table

  • Brooks
  • Nike
  • Jordan
  • Converse
  • Umbro
  • Puma

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Ethletic Shoes [A, F, S]

Company Profile: Fair Deal Trading Gmbh
17

Veja vegan sneakers [A]

Company Profile: Veja Fair Trade SARL
13

Vivobarefoot Vegan trainers [A]

Company Profile: Vivobarefoot Ltd
13

Veja sneakers

Company Profile: Veja Fair Trade SARL
12.5

Vivobarefoot trainers

Company Profile: Vivobarefoot Ltd
12.5

Inov-8 vegan sports shoes [A]

Company Profile: Inov-8, Inc.
11.5

Topo Athletic running shoes [A]

Company Profile: Topo Athletic LLC
11.5

Xero running shoes [A]

Company Profile: Feel the World, Inc
11.5

ZEMgear running shoes [A]

Company Profile: ZEMgear
11.5

ASICS vegan trainers [A]

Company Profile: ASICS Corporation
11

On Running shoes

Company Profile: On AG
11

ASICS trainers

Company Profile: ASICS Corporation
10.5

Newton Running Shoes [A]

Company Profile: Newton Running Company, Inc
10.5

Salming running shoes

Company Profile: Salming Sports AB
10

Tecnica

Company Profile: Tecnica Group SPA
10

TrekSta running shoes

Company Profile: Treksta Inc
10

Vibram

Company Profile: Vibram SpA
10

CMP running shoes

Company Profile: F.lli Campagnolo SpA
9.5

Dunlop trainers

Company Profile: Dunlop Sports Co. Ltd
9.5

Raidlight

Company Profile: Raidlight - Vertical SAS
9.5

La Sportiva running shoes

Company Profile: La Sportiva S.P.A.
9

Altra running shoes

Company Profile: ICON Health & Fitness, inc
8.5

Diadora sportshoes

Company Profile: Diadora Sport S.r.l.
8.5

Fila trainers

Company Profile: Fila
8.5

SCOTT

Company Profile: SCOTT Sports SA
8.5

Scarpa sports shoes

Company Profile: Calzaturificio S.C.A.R.P.A. S.p.A.
8.5

Ellesse trainers

Company Profile: Ellesse Ltd
8

Skechers trainers

Company Profile: Skechers Inc
8

Mizuno trainers

Company Profile: Mizuno Corporation
7.5

Montrail running shoes

Company Profile: Columbia Sportswear Co Inc
7.5

New Balance sports trainers

Company Profile: New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc
7.5

PF Flyers trainers

Company Profile: New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc
7.5

Warrior sports trainers

Company Profile: New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc
7.5

Adidas trainers

Company Profile: Adidas AG
7

Hi-Tec trainers

Company Profile: Hi-Tec Sports PLC
7

Reebok trainers

Company Profile: Reebok International Ltd
7

Salomon sports shoes

Company Profile: Salomon S.A.S
7

Merrell vegan trainers [A]

Company Profile: Wolverine World Wide Inc
6.5

Puma trainers

Company Profile: Puma Group
6.5

Saucony trainers [A]

Company Profile: Wolverine World Wide Inc
6.5

Under Armour sports shoes

Company Profile: Under Armour, Inc
6.5

Converse trainers

Company Profile: Converse Inc
6

Hoka ONE ONE

Company Profile: Deckers Outdoor Corporation
6

Jordan sports shoes

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Karrimor running shoes

Company Profile: Karrimor
6

Merrell sports shoes

Company Profile: Wolverine World Wide Inc
6

Nike trainers

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Saucony trainers

Company Profile: Wolverine World Wide Inc
6

Slazenger trainers

Company Profile: Sports Direct International Plc
6

Umbro Football Boots

Company Profile: Umbro
6

Vans trainers

Company Profile: Vans Inc
6

Brooks trainers

Company Profile: Brooks Sports Inc
0.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Growth in the sportswear market in the UK is being driven by a fashion trend for sporty clothing and footwear. For example, almost a quarter of consumers (23%) bought their footwear at sports shops/outdoor shops in the last year [1].
 

Image: Nike Trainers

Workers' Rights

Since we last looked at this market in 2012 there has been little progress by the big brands in improving supply chain policies. Many of the brands on the table above still receive a worst rating for supply chain management and evidence from campaign groups suggest that workers’ rights continue to be violated. 

The reason why there has been little change can in some part be attributed to the scale of the problems within the apparel and shoe industries. Years of a race to the bottom has led to practices such as low wages becoming the norm. Many campaigners and businesses believe the future of change lies in a multi-stakeholder approach involving brands, factories, workers’ unions, campaign groups and governments. 

Some of the problems have been widely reported. For example in March 2016 the Clean Clothes Campaign – a garment workers’ rights organisation – reported that Mizuno continued to refuse help to 346 Indonesian workers who were unfairly dismissed after a strike in 2012.

The women were on strike demanding the right to freedom of association and back payment of the legal minimum wage. It was reported that for years the women had stitched 150 pairs of shoes per hour, and also suffered from verbal and physical violence.

After five days of strike, the factory management dismissed the workers. Some of the women, who had been working for years on Mizuno sportswear, lost their homes and families following their dismissal. Adidas, another buyer at the factory at the time, also refused to support the workers.

Supply Chains Ranking

The Ethical Consumer supply chain management rating (which is just one of the rating categories included in the ratings table above) is complex but key to understanding company behavior in this sector.

The rating is broken up into four areas:

  • Supply chain policy
  • Multi-stakeholder engagement
  • Auditing and reporting
  • Difficult issues.

Within each of these areas a company can receive a good, reasonable, rudimentary or poor rating depending on the quality of its polices and reporting.

However, there is also a small-company exception clause for those with a low turnover that can prove they are doing some work in this area. Ethical Consumer acknowledges that it is harder for smaller companies to compete with multinationals in terms of policy and reporting as it can be very resource intensive.

Below we list how each company did overall and then in each of the four individual areas.

Best rating overall:

Ethletic, Veja, Vivobarefoot and Inov-8 receive a best overall rating for supply chain management as they have a turnover of less than £8 million and have direct relationships with overseas factories with established sets of workers’ rights. 

Middle rating overall:

The brands who score a middle rating for supply chain management are adidas, Puma, Reebok, Vans, Brooks and Nike brands (Nike, Converse, Jordan).

The remaining brands all receive a worst rating for their supply chain management policy. 

The ratings broken down

i) Supply chain policy 

The first area – supply chain policy – simply asks if a company has a supplier code of conduct which covers the six core International Labour Organisations (ILO) conventions.

Companies who score ‘good’ under this area must have a policy that covers all six of these conventions without qualification. Only Ellesse, which is part of the Pentland Group, achieved this. Nike and Puma both received a ‘reasonable’ rating.

The following brands all score a ‘rudimentary’ rating for their supply chain policies as their code of conduct covers only the basic four ILO conventions (employment free from discrimination, no child labour, no forced labour and freedom of association): Fila, Mizuno, Under Armour, New Balance, adidas, Reebok and Brooks.

The remaining companies’ supply chain policies either don’t cover at least four ILO conventions, or worse, they don’t have a publicly available code of conduct which covers workers’ rights.

ii) Multi-Stakeholder engagement

The second part of Ethical Consumer’s ranking looks at stakeholder engagement which includes membership to a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI).

An MSI is considered to be a formally organised initiative which is characterised by a democratic, multi-stakeholder governance structure. Members of an MSI usually include businesses, trade unions, civil societies and governments, who join together to help “tackle complex sustainability problems in global value chains.”[2] As SOMO – a Dutch non-governmental organisation – notes, MSIs often form as a response to major gaps in global governance.

Some of the companies in this guide are already collaborating through MSIs such as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), whose work involves improving workers’ rights around the world. 

Pentland Group is a long standing member of the ETI, but it didn’t provide any details on what it was collaborating on. The Clean Clothes Campaign had also highlighted the Pentland Group’s failure to be working on any specific initiatives in its profile of the company in 2014. 

Another MSI which companies in this guide are members of is the Fair Labor Association. In 2014 the organisation worked on issues such as fair compensation and worker representation. Out of the brands on this table adidas, New Balance, Nike and Puma are all part of the FLA.

iii) Auditing and reporting

The third of Ethical Consumer’s rankings on supply chain management looks at the way companies conduct their audits and report the results. Companies are rated on their commitment to audit their whole supply chain, including lower tiers; a clear and transparent schedule of audits; disclosure of audit results; a remediation strategy; and disclosure on who pays for the costs of audits.

Out of the companies on this table only Brooks, adidas and Ellesse scored a reasonable rating in this category. This meant they had achieved at least three of the provisions in this category.

The following companies received a rudimentary rating for achieving two of the provisions: Nike, Puma, Mizuno and Salomon.

The remainder of the large companies failed to achieve any of the provisions and were considered to have a poor approach to auditing and reporting.

iiii) Difficult issues

The final section of the supply chain management rating looks at how companies deal with difficult issues within supply chains. This can cover anything from policies addressing purchasing issues, such as training buyers on labour standards within supply chains, to taking a systematic approach to addressing issues such as child labour, living wages and restrictions to freedom of association.

Most of the brands in this guide received a poor rating for addressing difficult issues. Only Brooks, Nike, Wolverine brands (Merrell, Saucony), ASICS and Skechers received a rudimentary rating for their approaches to difficult issues. This meant the companies were addressing at least one difficult issue in their supply chain. Wolverine for example stated that it was committed to long-term partnerships with its suppliers.

Toxic Chemicals in Trainers

We have rated all the compaines in table above on toxic chemicals policies because of the number of hazardous chemicals such as PFCs, dyes and adhesives, used in footwear industries. 

In this guide only Ethletic and Vivobarefoot receive a best rating for their toxic chemicals policies. 

Greenpeace launched a 'Detox Campaign' and accused many popular sports brands of failing to ditch the use of harmful chemicals. 

Greenpeace called out Nike for refusing to 'be held accountable for its toxic problem' as it 'continues to champion a commitment lacking credibility, ambition and individual action'. 

Subscribers can click on a company in the table to see how each company scores. Become a subscriber here.

What is Wrong with Leather?

Many trainers are made out of leather. The production of leather is damaging for the environment, animals and people. Trainer brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas get marked down for use of leather in its products. 

Find out more about leather and ethical alternatives in our shoe guide.

Image: material labels

Can I buy Vegan Trainers? 

If you want to avoid leather it is best to check for the leathermark.

However, animal-based glue can also make a trainer not suitable for vegans. To make sure you are avoiding animal glue, our list below ensures which trainers are vegan certified. 

100% Vegan ranges:

Ethletic Shoes, Inov-8, Topo Athletic, Xero, ZEMgear and Newton

Some shoes suitable for vegans:

Vivobarefoot, Veja and Merrell all have vegan sections on their websites.

ASICS, Saucony, Mizuno and Brooks are also listed by PETA as having vegan options. A search of their websites for vegan shoes brings up a list of models, but no further information is provided.

Under Armour states “The vast majority of our shoes are fully synthetic with no use of animal products.”

Not suitable for vegans

When contacted the following brands could not claim their shoes were suitable for vegans due to the fact they did not know what type of glue had been used: Hi-Tec, New Balance and Amer Sports.

The remaining brands are not thought to have trainers suitable for vegans.

Company behind the brand

Nike’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) reputation in the media regarding workers’ rights has little improved, since we last rated them in 2012. For example, in April 2015 a report by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR) accused Nike of lacking “guts and morale” when it came to sourcing in Vietnam.

The report by the IGLHR pointed out that, in March 2015, Nike’s general counsel Hilary Krane emailed all staff asking them to lobby for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which she said would “reduce duties on footwear and apparel among TPP countries, including Nike products manufactured in Vietnam for sale in the US”. She added: “For Nike, rolling back these duties will allow us to grow in new markets, reinvest in innovation, and offset costs of doing business.”

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.

References:

  1. Mintel, Footwear Retailing, July 2016. 

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