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14 Nov

How Ethical Are the Major Sportswear Brands?

How ethical are the major sportswear brands? Sadly, none of them made it to the top of our ratings. Read the article to find out how each of the biggest activewear brands score—and where to find some better alternatives.

Big brands, little positive impact

Qatar’s World Cup is just a few weeks away now, and for months, experts have been exposing the dangerous environmental and human impacts of one of the most lucrative events on the planet.

As usual with these competitions, major sportswear brands will be sponsoring the event (Adidas is one of the World Cups’ partners), making the national teams’ kits (to name a few: Australia, France, and England are sponsored by Nike, Costa Rica’s jerseys are made by New Balance, Ghana and Morocco’s s by Puma, Germany and Mexico’s by Adidas), or just gearing up for a renewed global interest in football, and sports of all kinds.

So it’s also worth asking, what about the impacts of these major sportswear brands, which many of us wear in our everyday routine, too?

Today, we’re diving a little deeper to help you see what’s really happening with these major sportswear brands. Here’s what we found: many of these brands use materials that can be harmful to the environment, and few of these sportswear giants have been free of labour scandals in the last decade.

Keep reading to find out how the major sportswear brands rate for people, the planet, and animals.

How the major sportswear brands rate for people, the planet, and animals


Rated: Not Good Enough

Adidas’ overall rating is now “Not Good Enough”. The sportswear giant still has some way to go. Adidas isn’t making good on its existing promises and not keeping pace with industry-wide actions for people, the planet, and animals.

The brand is still very much part of the fast fashion industry. Producing huge quantities of garments (most of which are not made from lower-impact 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.

See the rating.

Check out alternatives to Adidas.


Rated: It's A Start

Overall, we rate Nike “It’s a Start”. Though Nike has a few promising environmental measures in place, it’s clear that the company is not doing as much as it should and needs to make serious changes in most areas. With an annual revenue of over $44 billion in 2021, the sportswear giant can certainly afford it.

See the rating.

Discover alternatives to Nike.


Rated: Good

There are three major sportswear manufacturers: Nike, Adidas, and Puma. Like Nike and Adidas, we rate Puma “It’s a Start” based on our thorough research and methodology.

The brand has taken some steps in the right direction by using more lower-impact materials, and if that’s important to you, it might be worth having a closer look at the brand.

However, the lack of diversity and inclusion policies, and crucially, the lack of evidence the brand pays its workers a living wage, is worrying. A brand that wants to be more sustainable needs to take a holistic approach to its operations, taking into account its impact on the planet, people, and animals, and not just focus on better materials.

See the rating.

Under Armour

Rated: Not Good Enough

Under Armour is “Not Good Enough”. Based on our research, we found that the American brand is doing very little to minimise its impact on the planet or ensure workers in its supply chain are safe and treated fairly. To get a better rating, Under Armour should start by disclosing more information about its practices and their impact, and ensuring the payment of a living wage.

See the rating.

New Balance

Rated: Not Good Enough

Overall, we gave New Balance a rating of “Not Good Enough”. The brand uses some lower-impact materials but hasn’t implemented enough practices to mitigate its impact on the environment. While New Balance does share some information about its labour practices, the brand still isn’t paying a living wage. Do better, New Balance.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Based on information from our research, we’ve given Lululemon an overall rating of “Not Good Enough”. When it comes to labour, we’re glad to see some level of transparency in the supply chain, but it still falls short. If the brand’s employees aren’t being paid a living wage, it’s simply not good enough to be considered truly ethical conduct. On the environment front, we’d like to see less talk and more action.

See the rating.

Check out alternatives to Lululemon’s leggings.


Rated: Not Good Enough

We rate Asics “Not Good Enough” overall. The brand uses too few lower-impact materials and while it has set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, we found no evidence it’s on track to meet its target. Little of Asics supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety or other labour rights. Like other big sportswear brands, the brand isn’t paying workers a living wage.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Columbia is also rated “Not Good Enough” overall. There is no evidence the brand reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in most of its supply chain. In addition to too little of its supply chain being certified by labour standards, the brand also lacks transparency when it comes to its labour practices and isn’t paying its workers a living wage.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

With a rating of “We Avoid”, FILA might be the least sustainable of the biggest sportswear brands in the world. The brand uses few lower-impact materials, and there’s no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s really worrying is that none of FILA’s supply chain is certified by labour standards and that there is no evidence the brand ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. What’s more, FILA has been linked with sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang region in China at risk of using Uyghur forced labour and has taken insufficient steps to remediate.

See the rating.

Check out more sustainable activewear brands

Editor's note

Feature image by Unsplash, all other images via Unsplash. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals.

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