How Ethical Is Adidas? - Good On You
28 Aug

How Ethical Is Adidas?

NOTE: As of July 2020 this brand has an updated rating in the Directory which you can check here for the latest info. This article will be updated soon to reflect any changes in scoring.

Adidas is the second largest activewear brand in the world after arch-rival Nike. But how ethical are they 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, 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 the Good On You app?

Environmental Impact: Good 

Adidas is a step ahead of many other big sportswear brands when it comes to sustainability. They have committed to setting context-based targets, a recent thought process in sustainability that recognises that water impacts are local and prioritises focusing efforts in water-stressed basins.

They recently partnered 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!

As part of their Sustainability Strategy, Adidas has established a number of goals aimed at reducing their carbon footprint. They have made a public commitment to reduce their waste production, energy consumption and water use by at least 20% at all their facilities by 2020. Adidas are actively engaging with manufacturing suppliers to find emissions reduction savings, although have not yet set a formal target around this.

Adidas have also committed to steadily increasing the use of more sustainable materials, and aim to have 100% of their cotton meet the Better Cotton Initiative‘s standards. Adidas is actually a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They are also partially certified by Bluesign, which advocates the elimination of hazardous chemicals from the textile industry, the safety of textile workers and the responsible use of resources.

Labour Conditions: Good  

Adidas’ labour rating is based on the 2018 Australian Fashion Report, which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency and worker empowerment initiatives. The brand received an ‘A-’ grade in the report, improving on their 2016 grades in most areas, and getting the top score for their Supplier Code of Conduct. Adidas traces and audits most of their supply chain, and publicly lists most of their suppliers. However, despite these positive steps, the brand still has few worker empowerment initiatives.

Another area where Adidas has a long way to go is ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage. The recent 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 chain by a specific date and other supporting action. Read more in our living wages article.

Animal Welfare: It’s A Start 

Adidas does not use angora, cashmere or any other exotic animal skins or hair, which is a step in the right direction. However, it does use leather, wool, and down feather without specifying sources. This is problematic because, without transparency, the welfare of workers and animals is unknown and cannot be guaranteed. Having said that, Adidas states that it uses wool from non-mulesed sheep and is working with the Leather Working Group to improve the sustainability of the leather industry.

Overall Rating: Good

Rated: Good

We rate Adidas ‘Good’ based on the 2017 Australian Fashion Report and our own research. Compared to its competitors, including Nike,  Puma, New Balance, Sketchers, and Asics, Adidas is miles ahead in terms of sustainability and labour conditions. Reebok (also owned by the Adidas Group) is the only mainstream activewear brand that is doing as well as Adidas on all counts.

That being said, Adidas still have a way to go before they can be considered a truly ethical brand. They could start by paying their workers a living wage. After recording profits of nearly US$10 billion last year, this should not be a problem. It’s also interesting to note that while Nike, Asics, and Puma have all committed to setting science-based greenhouse gas targets, Adidas have not, and therefore they risk falling behind

While Adidas has shown that they are 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 in-line with your values, we at Good On You recommend that you support brands that embrace a slow fashion model.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash. Good On You has big plans for ethical fashion! To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offers code or affiliate links.

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