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Conscious consumption:
Sustainable shoes

In the search for sustainable shoes, you come across many problems in production, as this is usually not fair or environmentally friendly. Many European shoe companies outsource production to other countries in order to benefit from the low-wage system there. Workers in these countries often have little opportunity to fight for better working conditions. But what measures are European footwear companies taking to combat abuses in their supply chains?

Leather production – how sustainable is leather?

According to Global2000, around 87% of all shoes manufactured worldwide are produced in Asia. China is currently the most important producer, accounting for two out of three shoes sold worldwide. Leather shoes are mainly produced in China, but also in Italy, Mexico, Brazil and India. In most cases, there are no strict environmental protection regulations in these countries, from which leather production in particular can benefit.

Tanning is the most dangerous production step in leather production, as highly toxic chemicals such as chromium III and chromium VI are used. As chrome-tanned leather is usually cheaper than vegetable-tanned leather, 80 to 90 % of leather worldwide is chrome-tanned. Workers usually do not wear protective clothing and therefore often suffer from various diseases and injuries. In addition, many rivers are contaminated by toxic wastewater, which poses a high health risk to the people living there.

Low wages instead of living wages

One of the biggest problems in the footwear industry is the low wage system and the risk that workers will not be able to live on the legal minimum wage. Many human rights organizations are therefore calling for living wages for workers. In India, for example, the minimum wage is around 50 euros per month, but according to the Asia wage report, the living wage is almost 200 euros per month. According to reports by the organization Südwind, there is also a lot of child labour and home-based work in the informal sector, which is mainly done by women in their own homes.

Sustainable shoes – do they even exist?

Sustainably produced shoes are hard to find, but there are already some shoe companies that you can support with a clear conscience. Shoes are particularly sustainable if they are produced ecologically and fairly. Vegan shoes use various natural and/or recycled materials, such as organic cotton, organic linen, cork and apple leather as a plant-based leather alternative or natural rubber from near-natural agroforestry systems. However, petroleum-based plastic is also often used in vegan shoe production, which does not speak for environmentally friendly production. When buying shoes, it is therefore worth taking a closer look at the materials, their origin and the production conditions in the factories.

Vegane "Lederschuhe" aus Pilzmyzel
Vegan "leather shoes" made from mushroom mycelium

Leather shoes can be considered sustainable if the leather has been tanned with natural plant substances instead of chrome and both fair production conditions and animal welfare standards have been adhered to. As water consumption remains high even when animal standards are adhered to, leather shoes can only be classified as sustainable to a limited extent.

As with fashion, food and other consumer goods, the same applies to shoes: the most sustainable option is to buy second-hand goods. This means that shoes are not thrown away and many resources can be conserved.

Whether sneakers, sandals, sports shoes or winter boots – you will find a large selection of environmentally friendly and fairly produced shoes from these sustainable companies:

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