How Ethical is Adidas?

By August 28, 2017Fashion
Woman wearing Adidas hoodie

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 GoY-Ratings_3) 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!Adidas Parley for the Oceans 1

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 Insta 1Adidas’ 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 Insta 2Adidas 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.

Find out how your favourite brands rate by downloading the Good On You app.

The Verdict: Good GoY-Ratings_4

We rate Adidas ‘Good’ based on the 2017 Australian Fashion Report and our own research. Compared to its competitors, including Nike GoY-Ratings_2,  Puma GoY-Ratings_3, New Balance GoY-Ratings_2, Sketchers GoY-Ratings_1, and Asics GoY-Ratings_2, Adidas is miles ahead in terms of sustainability and labour conditions. Reebok GoY-Ratings_4 (also owned by the Adidas Group) is the only mainstream activewear brand that is doing as well as Adidas on all counts.Woman wearing Adidas activewear

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.

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of smaller ethical activewear brands that are leading the ethical fashion movement.

Bhumi GoY-Ratings_5

Bhumi Organic Cotton Activewear on InstaShips internationally from Australia

Australian label Bhumi makes yoga and activewear that adheres to their core principles of sustainability, no toxins, no child labour and an ethical supply chain. The entire Soul Space collection is made using organic cotton and recycled polyester (from PET bottles, old garments and waste fabrics) which would have otherwise ended up in landfill.They are a Fairtrade certified brand, who continue to impress us with their quality ethical clothing.

Fibre Athletics GoY-Ratings_5

FibreAthletics Insta 1Ships internationally from the US

Fibre Athletics uses Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton, recycled polyester, and is a leading advocate for better labour rights. This brand’s focus is to craft high-quality activewear that will last a lifetime.

Veja GoY-Ratings_4

woman's legs with black pants on and veja sneakers standing on floorboardsShips internationally from France

Veja brings you gorgeous on-trend sneakers made from sustainable materials such as recycled cotton, recycled synthetics and wild rubber. This small brand pays their co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price.

Elle Evans GoY-Ratings_4pt9

Elle Evans ActivewearShips internationally from Australia

Elle Evans makes her products from post-consumer waste fabrics – discarded remnants that would otherwise go to landfill – or recycled lycra, which uses 80% less energy in production than regular lycra. All of the design and production is carried out by a small team of three, so it’s pretty easy to keep track of the supply chain! Ramp up your workout and your style all at the same time.

Girlfriend Collective GoY-Ratings_4pt9

Girlfriend Collective Insta 1Ships internationally from the US

Girlfriend Collective’s activewear is OEKO-TEX Standard 100 and bluesign® system certified. Their products are manufactured in Vietnam in a SA8000 certified factory where the pay starts at 125% of the local minimum wage. Employees also receive free catered lunch and guided exercise breaks.


Want more workout wear inspo? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Ethical Activewear – 2017 and 9 Eco & Ethical Sneaker Brands You’ll Love.

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in August 2017 and updated by the Good On You editorial team in June 2018.

Image sources: Jiří Wagner, the brands mentioned and Instagram (@adidas, @veja, @bhumi_organic_cotton , @girlfriendcollective and @fibreathletics).


Lara Robertson

Author Lara Robertson

Lara is a media student and writer at Good On You. She is a passionate vegan, bibliophile, fashionista and crazy cat lady, who hopes to spend her life writing about her passions and values.

More posts by Lara Robertson

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Jo says:

    I would love to be able to send Adidas a note directly from this article. Imagine if all the people who read this article, told them good job and get on making sure all your workers are paid properly. Thanks

    • Gordon Renouf Gordon Renouf says:

      Hi Jo, You can send messages to brands from within the Good On You app using the ‘Your Voice’ feature. Best

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