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Adidas is the second largest activewear brand in the world after arch-rival Nike. But how ethical is Adidas when it comes to sustainability, labour rights, and animal welfare? This article is based on Adidas’ “It’s a Start” rating published in March 2023. It may not reflect claims the brand has made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.
How does Adidas rate on Good On You in 2023?
The fashion industry is always evolving, and our ratings are evolving with it. We regularly update our methodology to stay on top of emerging issues—ensuring our ratings are relevant, useful, and timely, so you can always make the best choices for yourself.
Adidas has also evolved over the years. From humble beginnings in 1949 in Bavaria, Germany, sportswear giant Adidas (founded by Adolf Dassler, the brother of Puma founder Rudolf Dassler) has grown to be the second largest activewear brand in the world after arch-rival Nike. It is known and loved for its iconic Stan Smith sneakers, logo sweaters, tees, and sportswear, worn by athletes all over the world.
How does Adidas rate on Good On You in 2023? How ethical is Adidas?
One change in our methodology has been to allocate extra points for science-based carbon emission reduction targets. But while Adidas has received points for setting a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain, it’s not on track to meet its target.
Science-based targets currently represent the highest standard when setting a greenhouse gas emissions target. To set them, Adidas and other brands will have allocated a large amount of resources, data collection, and time to provide the relevant information to demonstrate said target is aligned with a 1.5 or 2 degree global temperature reduction pathway. However, it is also important for brands to demonstrate how they intend to meet the targets and their current tangible progress.
Speaking of targets, Adidas has set a target to eliminate hazardous chemicals by 2025 and claims it’s on track. Adidas also scored a B for its Carbon Disclosure Project climate and water questionnaires. Brands that we have rated “Good” this year for environment tend to be scoring A or A-.
While the brand does take some (limited) steps to prevent deforestation by avoiding raw materials which are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it does fall short of publishing its own policies, particularly on materials linked to deforestation such as leather. We also found no evidence Adidas has policies to protect biodiversity in its supply chain, another key issue in our methodology.
We found no evidence Adidas has policies to protect biodiversity in its supply chain, a key issue in our methodology update.
Adidas was also penalised for misleading consumers over environmental claims in 2021. According to the French Jury de Déontologie Publicitaire (JDP), Adidas’ “Stan Smith Forever. 100% iconic, 50% recycled” ad broke advertising rules and misled consumers. The brand didn’t inform consumers of the total proportion of the shoe that is recycled and is misleading in its use of the “End plastic waste” logo. The JDP also noted that the claim of “50% recycled” gives shoppers the impression that 50% of the total material used in the sneaker is made of recycled materials, which isn’t true. The message is ultimately confusing to consumers and makes it hard to determine what’s legit and what’s not. A clear case of greenwashing.
As a result, Adidas’ environmental rating has stayed “It’s a Start”. The brand’s use of some lower-impact materials including recycled materials and research with industry bodies on the impact of microplastics are not enough to compensate for the lost points discussed above.
People are the backbone of the fashion industry and brands need to take tangible actions to protect workers. Our methodology rewards brands that provide fair and safe working conditions, over the ones that simply audit suppliers.
Adidas’s labour rating remains unchanged overall, and is still “It’s a Start”. But we’re keeping the pressure on the brand, which is falling behind on critical industry issues.
Adidas received a score of 51-60% in the Fashion Transparency Index, which is okay, but lower than its previous score of 61-70%. Adidas’ social auditing program has been accredited by the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct including all of the final stage of production. The brand also disclosed policies to protect workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.
Worryingly, the area where Adidas has still a long way to go is ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage. The Foul Play report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette highlight the difference between the ever increasing amount of money paid on sponsorships to sports stars and other marketing expenses, compared to the reduction of the share of the final price of your sports gear paid to workers in the supply chain. Adidas has been awarded points for having a project to improve wages in a part of its supply chain and having a public commitment to improve wages in its supply chain, however we found no evidence Adidas ensures payment of a living wage in most of its supply chain.
The area where Adidas has still a long way to go is ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage.
Since 2020, we have taken allegations of brands’ involvement in the human rights abuses taking place against Uighur people in China’s Xinjiang Province into account in our ratings and have penalised brands named in reports by various human rights and news organisations. While Adidas has made moves away from production in the region, and pledged to boycott cotton from Xinjiang, there’s a lot more to the issue. We know this is an important question for many of you and we’ll keep an eye on Adidas and other brands as the situation evolves.
Adidas’ animal rating also stayed “Not Good Enough”. It has a formal animal welfare policy (an improvement from its last rating) aligned with Five Freedoms, but has no clear mechanisms to implement it. It does not use fur, exotic animal skin, exotic animal hair, or angora, but it is still using down. Adidas also still uses leather, including kangaroo leather, an emerging animal welfare issue, which has led the brand to be condemned by some activists in the US as a new bill was introduced to outlaw the sale of kangaroo body parts in the country. (Not without controversy itself, this law has yet to pass and has not moved forward in the often slow US legislative process.)
Adidas states that it has a policy to source wool from non-mulesed sheep but does not provide evidence to verify its claims. Plus, we found no evidence it traces any animal products to the first stage of production.
Overall rating: It’s a Start
So, how ethical is Adidas in 2023? Adidas’ overall rating is “It’s a Start”. It’s worth noting that of the 5,000 brands that Good On You has rated, only five large brands have achieved an overall rating of “Good”. For those who have purchased Adidas based on our ratings, Adidas still remains one of the highest scoring large brands and is in the top 10%—particularly on environmental and labour issues—though we acknowledge it still has some way to go.
So this score doesn’t mean you should get rid of your Adidas clothes and kicks. On the contrary, cherish what you already own: as we know, keeping our clothes for longer is one of the most sustainable things we can do. This being said, you should take this new information into account if you’re considering buying something new from Adidas.
This score doesn't mean you should get rid of your Adidas clothes and kicks. On the contrary, cherish what you already own.
While Adidas has shown that it is making progress in terms of sustainability and labour rights, at the end of the day the brand is still very much a part of the fast fashion industry. Producing huge quantities of garments (most of which are not made from preferred materials) has disastrous effects not only on the environment, but also on workers who often have to work long hours for very little pay in order to reach production targets.
Adidas still has a way to go before it can be considered a responsible brand. It could start by ensuring its suppliers are paying living wages to workers. With €22.5 billion net sales in 2022, this should not be a problem.
Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.
If you want to shop more in line with your values, Good On You recommends you support brands that embrace a slow fashion model. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite similar brands to Adidas.
We love the more sustainable brands listed below, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Adidas is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it. “It’s a Start” means just that—the brand is making a start. Adidas is already ahead of comparable brands. And if your options are Adidas or Lululemon, that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Adidas is a clear winner. Progress over perfection.
You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the “Your Voice” function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.
Here’s our list of “Good”, “Great”, and second hand alternatives to purchasing Adidas new.