From humble beginnings as comfortable boots for housewives in post-WW2 Germany, to one of the most iconic British shoes repped by punks and musicians, and now by many other youth subcultures worldwide. Dr. Martens or “Docs” has certainly had an unforgettable style journey since its appearance in the ’40s. But is this brand ticking the right boxes for people, planet, and animals? How ethical is Dr. Martens?
Dr. Martens has a lifetime warranty collection and uses packaging from 100% post-consumer waste materials. While these are positive signs, Dr. Martens’ overall impact on the environment is nothing to be proud of. It uses very few eco-friendly materials, with most products being made from resource-heavy leather. Dr. Martens tanneries are audited by the Leather Working Group, but the brand fails to have robust policies and initiatives on energy use, water reduction, as well as carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. This classic brand has a long way to go before it can be put on the environment’s nice list, which is why we rated its environmental impact ‘Not Good Enough’.
Docs are being repped by people from all walks of life across the globe, which begs the question—where are they made, and how are the workers treated? Despite being manufactured in the UK for close to 50 years, in 2003 production was moved to China and Thailand to avoid bankruptcy. These countries have a high and extreme risk of labour abuse. None of Dr. Martens’ supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights. The brand publishes zero or very limited information about its supplier policies and audits, or about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association. It even received a score of 0-10% in the Fashion Transparency Index. Most importantly, there is no evidence Dr. Martens ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain.
When it comes to the impact of COVID-19, Dr. Martens has done adequately to speak to how it is protecting its retail workers in the stores. However, the brand makes no mention of COVID in its supply chain, how it is ensuring the financial security of its suppliers, or the health and safety of the supply chain workers, if it is cancelling orders or not, or if it’s working with its suppliers in any other ways to ensure that wages and payments can be made.
By shifting to a fast fashion model, Dr. Martens has really dragged its rating down to ‘Very Poor’. Dr. Martens has much more work to do to ensure that its workers are treated with the respect and care they deserve.
Dr. Martens does not use fur, angora, down, or exotic animal hair or skin. It does, however, use leather and wool from non-mulesed sheep. But even though the brand has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, there is no evidence it traces animal products to the first stage of production. Without being fully transparent about where the animal products come from, it’s hard to gauge the treatment of animals along the supply chain.
One thing to commend Docs for—from an animal welfare point of view—is the introduction of a vegan line, made from 100% non-animal origin materials. However, it labels the material as “a non-leather synthetic material”, without going into details. This could be made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic, which Greenpeace lists as one of the most environmentally-damaging plastics. We’d love to see more transparency about the choice of materials. There are so many amazing eco-friendly leather alternatives out there and it would be fantastic to see big brands embracing them!
Dr. Martens’ animal rating is ‘It’s A Start’.
Overall Rating: Not Good Enough
Dr. Martens has received a rating of ‘Not Good Enough’ overall, based on information from our own research. While the brand is making a start in animal welfare, it’s got a lot of work to do to improve its impact, especially when it comes to labour and the environment. 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.
Luckily, many amazing sustainable and ethical alternatives to Dr. Martens are popping up every day! Have a look at a few of our favourites below.
Ethical alternatives to Dr. Martens