Nike vs Adidas - Who's More Ethical? - Good On You
07 Sep

Nike vs Adidas – Who’s More Ethical?

So, your beloved trainers have reached the point of no return. Or maybe you just need an extra pair of runners for the new 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 and sustainability numbers to find out which company treats people, the planet, and animals better than the other. Let’s answer once and for all: is Adidas better than Nike?

Nike—Making a start

In the 90s, Nike became notorious for its terrible human rights treatment. The brand says it has changed, but can it really outrun the past?

It’s generally agreed Nike has improved, but there is still a way to go. The activewear giant has been criticised for allowing its suppliers to exploit workers by paying below the minimum wage, enforcing excessive working hours, and failing to provide safe working conditions. Nike also hasn’t signed the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord, an important 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—after being called out for it in early 2020.

In March 2017 Nike took a big step backwards when it ceased allowing the independent NGO Workers Rights Consortium access to factories to check on labour standards. But this year, Nike received a score of 51-60% in the Fashion Transparency Index (in the same scoring range as the previous year), showing it started going in the right direction again. It’s like an on-again-off-again high school romance begging for some stability!

Although Nike makes comfortable footwear, we think some of the big time execs should try walking in their worker’s shoes for a while, and hope to see continual improvements from a big brand that can certainly afford to make them.

Nike gets an ‘It’s A Start’ rating.

Adidas—Doing some good

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 impact of a living wage for garment workers here.

On the other hand (or, ahem, foot), Adidas received a score of 61-70% in the Fashion Transparency Index this year for disclosing its suppliers and subcontractors (a win for transparency), supporting freedom of association, and signing the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord. 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. 

The verdict

So, it seems that on the labour rights front both companies have a bit of trek in front of them—we hope they don’t get too many blisters along the way! Is Adidas better than Nike? Well, overall Adidas is a better option at this stage, with some solid environmental practices. But does the brand do enough to create a better world, especially for workers?

Step up your ethics

Check out these ethical alternatives below, beating both Adidas and Nike at their own game, with more solid results for people, the planet, and animals.


Rated: Good
womsh sustainable sneaker brand

Fashion and sustainability can go together and Womsh is the footwear brand that proves it. Their sneakers are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh @ COMOVITA.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.


Rated: Good

Veja is a French brand designing ecological and fair trade footwear, and is also a sustainable fashion pioneer. The brand uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton and vegetable-tanned leather! Veja pays their co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price. By not advertising, they are able to invest more money into strengthening their ethical practices.

See the rating.

Shop Veja.

Shop Veja @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Veja @ thegreenlabels.

Shop Veja @ Outerknown.

Shop Veja @ Threads 4 Thought.

Shop Veja @ Labell-D.

Shop Veja Kids second hand @ Retykle.


Rated: Good
yellow sustainable skate shoes by Cariuma brand

CARIUMA is a sustainable Brazilian sneaker brand that wants you to feel super comfortable while providing effortless style in organic canvas, leather, and suede styles. Find CARIUMA's shoes in US sizes 5-13.

See the rating.


Sage Larock

Rated: Good
woman wearing ethical leggings by sage larock

Made in-house by a small team in LA, sustainable luxury brand Sage Larock produces timeless swimwear and activewear that is sure to turn heads. Its stunning pieces are made from an Italian recycled plastic fabric that is high-quality and long-lasting—and a percentage of profits from each sale goes to support marine conservation non-profits! Sage Larock stocks sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Sage Larock.


Rated: It's A Start
light green allbirds sneakers

Allbirds is a San Francisco-based startup that looks to Mother Nature as its muse. It uses a variety of eco-friendly, innovative materials including TENCEL™ Lyocell which uses 95% less water than traditional cotton and cuts its carbon footprint in half.

See the rating.

Shop Allbirds.


Rated: Good

Nube turns recycled plastic into responsible and fashionable activewear, designed and made in the US. The brand partners with artists and designers around the world to create prints motivated by the environmental crisis that inspire connection and action. This fully woman-owned business uses a closed-loop manufacturing process by recycling all off-cuts created during the manufacturing process. Find Nube products in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Nube.

Shop Nube @ Curate.

Keen for more? Check out our ultimate guide to sustainable sneakers. Now there’s a home run!

Editor's note

Feature image via Nike and Adidas, 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 more than 2,500 brands. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links. This article was first published in 2016 and updated in September 2020.

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