Nike vs Adidas – Who’s More Ethical?

By April 9, 2016Fashion

So, your beloved trainers have reached the point of no return. Or maybe you just need an extra pair of runners for the exercise regime? (Which you will definitely stick to — juuuust as soon as you have the perfect footwear…) While you’re running around trying to decide whether to buy those Adidas all white Stan Smiths or the blackout Nike Free Runs, we crunched the ethics to find out which company treats their workers well. So, who’s more ethical, Nike or Adidas?

Nike — Just (Don’t) Do It


In the 90s, Nike became notorious for its terrible human rights treatment.  They say they’ve changed, but can they really outrun their past?

It’s generally agreed Nike has improved, but not enough. They’ve been criticised for allowing their suppliers to exploit workers, paying below the minimum wage, excessive working hours and failing to provide safe working conditions. They also haven’t signed the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord, an initiative to improve factory safety which came into play after the death of over 1,000 garment workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse. On the plus side, Nike has committed to not knowingly using Uzbek cotton — where forced labour and child labour has been rife.

However, in March 2017 Nike took a big step backward when it ceased allowing the independent NGO Workers Rights Consortium access to factories to check on labour standards.

Although Nike makes comfortable footwear, we think some of the big time execs should try walking in their worker’s shoes for a while!

Nike gets a ‘Not Good Enough’ rating  GoY-Ratings_2.

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Adidas – Getting Better


Adidas has been subject to many of the same criticisms as Nike in relation to worker exploitation including in a report by War on Want on conditions in Bangladesh in 2012.

More recently both brands have been strongly criticised for failing to take any steps towards paying a living wage to workers in their supply chain despite increasing profits and increasing sponsorship payments to sports stars and teams. The 2018 Foul Play report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette highlights the difference between the ever increasing amount of money paid on sponsorships to sports stars and other marketing expenses, compared to the reduction of the share of the final price of your sports gear paid to workers in the supply chain. The Report calls on the brands to commit to paying living wages across their supply chain by a specific date and other supporting action. Read more about the living wage for garment workers here.

On the other hand (or, ahem, foot) Adidas has been praised in the 2016 Australian Fashion Report for disclosing its suppliers and subcontractors (a win for transparency), supporting freedom of association and signing the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord. Adidas maintained their relatively high rating in the 2017 & 2018 Ethical Fashion Reports. Moreover, in June 2017 Adidas was singled out for praise in a report on forced labour by Know the Chain, noting that Adidas has strong disclosure throughout its supply chain and in particular that it was the only one of five major footwear brands to disclose activities to address forced labour in specific countries.

Adidas recently partnered with Parley for the Oceans — an environmental group tackling ocean pollution — to produce a range of recycled products. You can now buy a pair of Ultraboost trainers which are made entirely from recycled material like plastic bottles recovered from the ocean. Another step in the right direction!

Adidas get a ‘Good’ rating good on you great rating

The Verdict

So, it seems that on labour rights both companies have a bit of trek in front of them — we hope they don’t get too many blisters along the way! Overall Adidas is a better option. But do they do enough to create a better world for their workers?

Step Up Your Ethics

Check out Veja good on you great rating, the French-owned, Brazilian-made new kid on the block. Organic cotton, ethical rubber and fair trade working conditions, beating both Adidas and Nike at their own game.


Keen for more? Check out our article featuring 9 Eco & Ethical Sneaker Brands You’ll Love. Now there’s a home run!

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Editor’s note: Ratings are correct at time of publication. Updated July 2017 to add references to the Ethical Fashion Report 2017. The Know the Chain report on footwear brands and forced labour. Nikes decision to no longer allow the Workers Rights Consortium to inspect its supplier factories also added. Updated in June 2018 with the 2018 Foul Play report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette.

Yvette Hymann

Author Yvette Hymann

Yvette likes writing, reading and long walks on the beach. She has been described as a crazy cat lady more than once in her time, and is actually quite okay with that.

More posts by Yvette Hymann

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