21 Oct

How Ethical Is Levi’s?

This article is based on the Levi’s rating published in 2020.

For over fifty years, Levi’s has been a name synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, counterculture, and effortless style. It is proof of enduring brand power that its denim continues to trade high in the currency of cool. But is this household name doing anything to ensure its jeans are not just on-trend, but ethical and sustainable too? How ethical is Levi’s?

With a reported revenue of $5.8 billion USD in 2019 by parent company Levi Strauss & Co, it doesn’t require much imagination to picture the vast, global production machine behind these huge profits. Manufacturing on such a large scale is bound to have far-reaching consequences.

In 1991, Levi’s developed its Terms of Engagement – a Code of Conduct to guide ethical production throughout the denim giant’s supply chain. Levi’s claims the document was landmark in the fashion industry, and has influenced many other apparel companies to adopt similar codes.

So, does it work? Let’s compare principles with practice.

Environmental Impact

A product life cycle study commissioned by Levi’s showed that for one of its core products—Levi’s® 501® Medium Stonewash jeans—37% of their climate impact and 23% of water consumption occurred during the consumer care phase. Levi’s has taken this as a call to action to shift consumer attitudes away from fast-fashion based consumption and encourage customers to treat Levi’s jeans as a long-term investment. So how has this philosophy influenced its practices?

Levi’s has made strong commitments to sustainable denim production, including significantly reducing water use. By 2020, the Levi’s brand aims to make 80 percent of its products using Water<Less™ technique. It has also set a 25% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 for its direct emissions and consumed electricity, and so far it is on track to meet these targets.

In 2012, Greenpeace named and shamed Levi’s for connections to dangerous water pollution in Mexico in their ‘Toxic Threads’ report. Levi’s has since pledged to reduce the hazardous chemicals used to dye and treat its clothing, and is aiming for the elimination of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Thanks to all of this effort, we have given Levi’s a ‘Good’ rating for the environment.

Labour Conditions

Levi’s rates ‘Not Good Enough’ for labour. It scored a mid range 41-50% in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, as it traces most of its supply chain including all of the final stage of production.

Despite this positive step, there’s an area of the Levi’s supply chain that requires attention. Almost none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, and Levi’s has made little progress towards ensuring the payment of a living wage for its workers across the supply chain. Given its huge profits, we think the brand could be doing far better on this front.

Animal Welfare

Levi’s animal welfare is ‘Not Good Enough’. It does not use fur, angora, or other exotic animal skin or hair. Its current Animal Welfare Policy insists that the supply chains for the sourcing of all animal products must be traceable where practicable to ensure humane practices. Despite this, it does still use leather, down feather, and wool without stating their sources, but states it supports wool from non-mulesed sheep and will work to “consolidate its wool sourcing accordingly, as it becomes commercially viable.”

Overall Rating

We rate Levi’s as ‘It’s A Start’ based on our own research. Our rating reflects the company’s ambition and ingenuity, particularly the continued headway it’s making with regards to environmentally sustainable production methods. Levi’s is committed to producing quality, hard-wearing products. With that in mind, along with some denim-care-know-how, investing in a pair timelessly designed Levi’s jeans can be a worthwhile investment. But if you want to invest in a brand that is sustainable on all fronts, we have picked some ethical alternatives for you!

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.

See the rating.

Shop Levi’s Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

At Good On You, we recommend that you support brands that embrace a slow fashion model. Check out these ethical denim labels rated ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ in our Directory.

Good Swaps

Ethical alternatives to Levi’s

Outland Denim

Rated: Great

Outland Denim makes premium denim jeans and clothes, and offers ethical employment opportunities for women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia. This Australian brand was founded as an avenue for the training and employment of women who have experienced sex trafficking. Find most of the brand's range in US sizes 22-34.

See the rating.

Shop Outland Denim.


Rated: Great

unspun is an American brand, creating a denim world that reduces global carbon emissions by 1% through a zero-inventory and low waste process. Its product sizing is totally customisable to ensure you always find the perfect fit.

See the rating.

Shop unspun.

Shop unspun @ Cerqular.

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great
A man wears navy jeans and a blue top

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Not only does it offer a repair service, but it also provides a rental service where you can lease a pair of jeans for up to a year. MUD Jeans uses a combination of GOTS certified organic cotton and post-consumer recycled cotton. MUD Jeans are available in a range of sizes, usually from W25 L30-W33 L32 for women and W28 L34-W36 L34 for men.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.

Shop MUD Jeans @ Labell-D.

Nobody Denim

Rated: Good

Nobody Denim has a longstanding commitment to ethical manufacturing principles and offers a unique vision of responsible design. It traces its supply chain, ensures a living wage for workers, and is accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. Find most of the jeans in sizes 23-32.

See the rating.

Shop Nobody Denim @ Farfetch.


Rated: Great
woman wearing navy kuyichi shirt

Established in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. With ‘Great’ labour and environmental ratings, the brand designs ethical and durable, yet trendy and modern pieces that never go out of style. Sizes XS-L are available.

See the rating.

Shop Kuyichi.

Shop Kuyichi @ Staiy.


Rated: Great

Triarchy creates eco-friendly jeans, skirts, shorts, jumpsuits, and jackets. The brand’s production system uses 85% recycled water by consistently reusing the "thick indigo laden sludge" that unmonitored factories dump into water systems. Find most of the jeans in US sizes 24-32.

See the rating.

Shop Triarchy.

We love these sustainable brands listed above, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Levi’s is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it! ‘It’s A Start’ means just that—the brand is making a start. If your options are Levi’s or a denim brand that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Levi’s is a clear winner. Progress over perfection!

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the ‘Your Voice’ function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Editor's note

Feature image via Levi's, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory  to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales with top-rated partners made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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