TOMS is a company that has exploded in the past few years and are known for their ‘One for One’ movement. For every pair of TOMS sold, they will give a free pair to a child in need in a developing country. Many children can’t attend school because of their lack of shoes, and diseases are passed on through soil waste. In part TOMS is a pretty good company. They currently have manufacturing plants in Argentina, China, and Ethiopia. They make sure their workers are in sound labor conditions, are paid fair wages, and the plants follow the standards of the International Labor Organization. Now, before you go out and buy as many pairs of TOMS as you can afford, I’d like to ask you a question. Are free shoes really the solution?
Shoeless children are not the real problem. It’s poverty. These children don’t have shoes because their parents can’t afford to buy them. Through low wages and unemployment, their parents are struggling to support their families and shoes become unnecessary compared to shelter and food. While there is no damage done by giving children shoes, within months, they will outgrow their shoes and be in the same place as they were before.
The lasting solution to supply children with shoes, is to supply their parents with the opportunity to afford them. Now, I’m not ragging on TOMS. They are more socially aware and caring than many companies, but I’d like to see them open TOMS factories in the poverty stricken countries they give shoes to. This helps the local economy grow, lowers the poverty line, and helps the families become self sustaining. By being able to afford shoes for their children, this starts a cycle of continuing education and sustainability for generations to come.
-Emily Allen is a writer/bogger for EnviroClub.org in the United States.