Adidas is the second largest activewear brand in the world after arch-rival Nike. But how ethical is it when it comes to sustainability, labour rights, and animal welfare?
From humble beginnings in 1949 in Bavaria, Germany, founded by Adolf Dassler (the brother of Rudolf Dassler, founder of Puma), Adidas is now a household name. It is known and loved for its iconic Stan Smith sneakers, logo sweaters, tees, and sportswear, worn by athletes all over the world.
But how does Adidas rate on Good On You? How ethical is Adidas?
Adidas uses a medium proportion of eco-friendly materials including recycled materials, and 5 years ago, it started partnering with ocean conservation group Parley for the Oceans to produce a range of products made from recycled waste from the sea. Each pair of these Ultraboost trainers is made from 100% recycled material, including 11 plastic bottles! Adidas also uses tanneries that are certified gold or silver by the Leather Working Group and has conducted research with industry bodies on the impact of microplastics.
As part of its Sustainability Strategy, Adidas has established an absolute target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations but it has not set a supply chain target.
Adidas is a step ahead of many other big sportswear brands when it comes to sustainability, which is why we rated its environmental impact ‘Good’.
When it comes to labour, Adidas’ rating is ‘It’s A Start’: it received a score of 61-70% in the Fashion Transparency Index, and some of its supply chain is certified by FLA Workplace Code of Conduct including all of the final stage of production.
In more good news, Adidas traces and audits most of its supply chain. The brand publishes a detailed list of suppliers in the final stage of production, some information about the second and first stages of production, and some information about the findings of supplier audits, as well as some information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association. In the spirit of transparency, Adidas publishes detailed information about its supplier policies, audits, and remediation processes. Importantly, the brand also discloses policies to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.
One area where Adidas has 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 highlights 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. The report calls on Adidas (and Nike) to commit to paying living wages across their supply chains by a specific date and other supporting action. Doing so would really help to boost the brand’s score for people.
Adidas’ animal rating is ‘It’s A Start’. It has a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy. It does not use fur, exotic animal skin, exotic animal hair, or angora, but it is still using leather. Adidas states that it uses wool from non-mulesed sheep and that it traces some animal products to the first stage of production.
Overall Rating: Good
We rate Adidas ‘Good’ based on our own research. Compared to its competitors, including Nike, Puma, New Balance, Skechers, and Asics, Adidas is miles ahead in terms of sustainability and labour conditions. Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s 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. That being said, Adidas still has a way to go before it can be considered a truly ethical brand. It could start by paying its workers a living wage. After a 6% net sales growth to $23.6 billion last year, this should not be a problem!
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 sustainable 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.
If you want to shop more in-line with your values, we at Good On You recommend that you support brands that embrace a slow fashion model. Here are a few of our favourite similar brands to Adidas: