Socio-Economic Effects of The TOMS Shoes Charity Model
TOMS shoes have grown in popularity over the past few years, slowly gaining more and more traction. They can be found in almost all department stores from Nordstrom to Zumiez. Starting out with just one product, a simple canvas slipper, the company now manufactures sandals, boots, high heels, eyeglasses and even coffee mugs, all under the motto “One for one.”
When one first reads the “One for one” brand mantra, the first thought is “I buy a shoe, and someone else gets a shoe too,” right? This thought process is backed up by photos of TOMS employees surrounded by children wearing new shoes in desolate villages around the world. Dirty, malnourished children are pictured with brand new TOMS shoes in hand. The mediocre canvas TOMS slippers is an immediate replacement for missed meals.
Photographs aside, when you take a closer look at the TOMS website, they suggest that their company motto is to “match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need.” While this type of charity giving is rare amongst large retailers, there is concern surrounding how much good it really does to change society.
According to John Favani, in a guest piece on WhyDev.org, he finds three main problems with the TOMS charity model. First, TOMS argues that the main purpose in giving shoes to children in third world countries is to fight ringworm infections. However, the cost of producing TOMS shoes is more expensive than actually solving the ringworm problem through local health clinics. Favani explains that “if this money was instead donated to a local public health organization, cement latrine facilities could be built near by for an estimated cost of $2,000.” For $27,000, “one could temporarily postpone hookworm incidence for two years in one community, or eradicate them for decades in 13.” To put that into perspective, the same about of money, $27,000, is how much it costs TOMS to give shoes to 1000 children.
Next, Favani talks about how TOMS is “giving fish, rather than training fisherman.” Triple Pundit’s Gina-Marie Cheeseman has the same concern. Cheeseman explains that “by giving away shoes, it creates a dependency, and it disrupts local economies.” In the long run this will ruin the local economies, and leave the people with less, because TOMS will not be there to hand out shoes forever.
Finally, TOMS has come under criticism about their favoritism for religious organizations. Favani reports that “the missionaries working for one giving partner, Bridge to Rwanda, distributed some 6,000 shoes to a number of students at schools in that nation. They gave most of the shoes to children in 50 schools within one Anglican diocese, and to children in one school outside that Christian network.” This type of behavior contradicts the TOMS statement of purpose on their website which states that they do not have any religious preferences.
As far as shoe companies go, TOMS is undeniably leading the pack in its attempts to drive social impact in areas that need it the most; however, the jury is still out on whether or not their efforts are enough to eradicate these issues in the long term.
What are your opinions on TOMS Shoes? Comment below or tweet me @LydiaYekalam