Our editors curate highly rated brands that are first assessed by our rigorous ratings system. Buying through our links may earn us a commission—supporting the work we do. Learn more.
These comfortable statement sandals may be popular, but unfortunately Birkenstock isn’t living up to expectations on the sustainability front. So how ethical is Birkenstock? This article is based on the Birkenstock rating published in July 2022 and 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.
Let’s break the Birk down
The chunky sandals that once prompted many a turned-up nose in the fashion community are now more than just comfortable kicks. Spotted on the Parisian runways back in 2012 and appearing in the box office hit Barbie movie in 2023, the Birkenstock has graduated from a hippy necessity to a chic statement shoe in recent times.
These German sandals have been around for more than two centuries, and are now paired with everything from shorts to maxi skirts by influencers all over the world. But how ethical and sustainable are these buckled slip-ons? We break the Birk down, issue by issue. Let’s take a look.
Despite its eco image, Birkenstock’s environment rating is “Not Good Enough”. It uses few lower-impact materials, there is no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and it doesn’t appear to minimise textile waste. One positive is that it uses water-based glues to minimise the use of solvent-based chemicals in its shoe production, but the brand still has a long way to go for the planet.
Birkenstock is also “Not Good Enough” for workers. While its final stage of production is mostly undertaken in the European Union, a low/medium risk region for labour abuse, there is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. It doesn’t appear to have worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint, nor does it disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19. Do better for your people, Birkenstock.
Finally, when it comes to our animals friends, Birkenstock is also “Not Good Enough”. On the plus side, the brand doesn’t use fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin. However, it uses leather, wool, and exotic animal hair without stating sources; and it doesn’t appear to trace any animal product to the first stage of production. While the brand does offer some styles made from a leather alternative making them suitable for vegan shoppers, that doesn’t discount its use of untraced, unethical materials in the majority of the range.
Overall rating: ‘Not Good Enough’
So, how ethical is Birkenstock? Birkenstock’s overall rating of “Not Good Enough” is based on our own research. Despite its iconic status and global popularity, the brand isn’t doing enough for people, the planet, or animals. It could start by revamping its materials and incorporating more lower-impact and animal-free options and ensure its workers are paid a living wage across the supply chain.
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’re a die-hard Birkenstocks fan, don’t fret—we’ve tracked down brands making similar looking but way more conscious consumer friendly sandals.
“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Birkenstock