05 Feb

How Ethical Is Reebok?

Known for their innovative athletic apparel and footwear, Adidas-owned global sportswear giant Reebok has been around for over a century.

Reebok are sportswear pioneers — they developed the first spiked running shoe and the first athletic shoe designed specifically for women, as well as being the official sponsor for the likes of the UFC and CrossFit.

The question is, are they as good for the environment, workers and animals as they are for athletes? Read on to find out how they rate in all three categories so you can decide if it’s time for a Reebok rebound.

Environmental Impact: Good

Reebok has a lot to be proud of in this category. Their sustainability practices and goals are commendable, trumping most other fast fashion companies. They have committed to reducing absolute emissions in their direct operations. They are on track to meet their target of a 15% emissions reduction on 2015 levels by 2020. However, they do not have a target for their supply chain, where they would generate the majority of their emissions.

Proving they are truly invested in doing right by the planet, parent-company Adidas is a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They are also partially certified by Bluesign, which means harmful chemicals are greatly reduced in the manufacturing process. The brand is taking steps to implement a recycle program and are aiming towards a truly sustainable product.

Adidas is also ahead of the game with water management, especially when it comes to their competitors. 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. Adidas is also aiming for a reduction in water usage of at least 20% at all their facilities by 2020.

If their initiatives stay on track, the main area for improvement is their use of eco-friendly materials. Improving this would help them receive a better rating. The brand uses a great deal of leather in their products. Although this is a natural material, it is not only very damaging to the environment but for workers and animals.  Perhaps Adidas can start implementing some of their more sustainable materials into Reebok’s range. This could include recycled polyester, recycled rubber, organic cotton and recycled ocean plastics. We’d also encourage Reebok and Adidas to commit to science-based targets. Many major brands have already taken on this initiative. It would, therefore, be great if Reebok could follow.

Labour Conditions: Good

When it comes to workers, Reebok has achieved a “Good” result, based on the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency and worker empowerment. The brand received the top score for their Supplier Code of Conduct included in supplier contracts. They trace almost all of their supply chain at all levels and publicly list all or most of their suppliers. This includes supplier addresses. Any subcontracting that occurs adheres to code standards, so it is ensured workers are treated fairly across the board.

Reebok audit most of their traced facilities over a two-year period. This is across their entire supply chain. They also received the top score in relation to implementing a living wage or improving wages. However, this does not guarantee that Reebok actually pays their workers a living wage.

With very few worker empowerment initiatives in place, Reebok misses out on the top rating in this category. By ensuring workers have access to important workplace initiatives like unions and effective grievance mechanisms, and actually paying a living wage across their supply chain, Reebok could see their score improve.

Animal Welfare: It’s a Start

This category seems to be the main let-down for Reebok. While they do not use fur, down feather, angora or other exotic animal skins or hair, they do use wool. It does, however, come from non-mulesed sheep! The main issue here is that they use leather without stating sources. That means the leather is likely not a by-product of the food industry. With devastating effects on animals, workers and the environment, the leather industry is just not sustainable. Therefore Reebok should consider investing in some of the many innovative, eco-friendly leather alternatives. This would help them do right by our animal friends, while earning the title of a truly ethical company.

Overall Rating: Good

Rated: Good

All in all, Reebok are taking some fantastic steps. They have achieved a “Good” rating based on the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report and our own research. With numerous awards for their sustainability targets and labour conditions, the brand stands out in the often shockingly unethical athletic apparel industry.

Reebok has some areas to focus on moving forward. For the environment, they should achieve their environmental sustainability goals. For people, they can ensure worker empowerment and living wages throughout their supply chain. And for the animals, they can consider ethical alternatives to leather. With these changes, they could see themselves shoot to the top in ethical athletic wear.

Editor's note

Feature image via Reebok.

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