Dave’s Chinese Trainers – no escape from globalisation for ethical shoes

Paul French and Matt Crabbe on the breaking “green trainer” scandal.

‘Recycled’ trainers cannot escape the ethics challenges of the world we live in now, it seems…

A couple of points of clarification:

1) ‘Trainers’ is British for sports shoes – ‘sneakers’ we believe the cousins call them;

2) Dave Cameron is the electorally hopeful leader of the UK Conservative Party who reckons himself a bit pro-environment and all sort of youthful in a circa-1997 Blairite way

However, it seems that whenever Dave trumpets one of his green initiatives it inevitably backfires on him – remember how he made a big deal about cycling to the House of Commons – until it was revealed that three cars of security personnel have to follow his bike! And so it has happened again with his much hyped wearing of ‘Worn Again’ brand trainers – the supposedly ‘green’ trainers made from recycled materials. Now apart from the uncomfortable sight of a British man in his forties wearing trainers – which, like baggy shorts, may be acceptable in America for 40-somethings but please God no in Europe – there are apparently some problems with Dave’s green trainers.

According to a Mail on Sunday article (a generally pro-Dave newspaper) Dave’s £65–a-pair eco-friendly shoes are not so much. The limited-edition Bigger trainers made out of recycled materials, including firemen’s old trousers, but £6 from every pair goes to helping Britain’s homeless. However, they are made in China so the firemen’s old trousers have to go to Asia by boat (4 weeks), be made into shoes and then shipped back (another 4 weeks) all leaving a rather hefty carbon footprint. Worn Again is a brand owned by large shoe concern Terra Plana and are made in a Hong Kong-owned factory in Tangxia, Guangdong – a town almost totally composed of shoe manufacturers. The factory and town are adjacent to one of China’s most polluted rivers – one that literally runs black due to pollution.

Tetra Plana was apparently so concerned at worries over the Tangxia plant and the Worn Again brand that some bright spark in their UK head office suggested the workers write their own blog on working conditions – a very 2007 idea. But perhaps not in Tangxia where the average wage is £1.70 a day and none of the workers could afford a computer. Tetra Plana claimed to the Mail on Sunday that conditions in Tangxia are great, but the Mail’s journalist found workers complaining about poor pay and conditions and feeling sick working with the shoe’s glue all day while management were said to be overly strict – a 43-year-old woman worker told the Mail: ‘I’ve been here for ten years, but I’ve never had a promotion and I still earn only RMB800 a month.

So not so green – but remember Dave Cameron is also Tory ‘blue’ so he likes corporate profits. Green or not, Worn Again trainers cost Terra Plana about £13 to manufacture, so, despite this and the £6 donation to the homeless, there is still a profit of about £46 on each pair thank you very much. The good news perhaps is that having Dave Cameron wear your brand is perhaps not the best endorsement for those seeking to tap into the young hipster market – most brands (with the exception of fox hunting and immigrant bashing) would rather leading Tory politicians didn’t endorse them – Worn Again must be thinking the same now.

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