Cause for Concern?

If you were asked to name a philanthropic company, what would come to mind? Since its founding in 2006, TOMS has grown to become one of the best known “socially responsible” brands, receiving the Footwear News Brand of the Year award in 2010 and the Award for Corporate Excellence from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.

The concept is simple: for every pair of TOMS shoes sold, another pair will be donated to a child in need. “One for one,” as they call it.

After a trip to Argentina in which founder Blake Mycoskie came across many children in poor areas without shoes, he recognized the problems these children and their communities face without shoes to wear – not just in terms of health, but also in education and future opportunities. For example, providing shoes to children who were previously unable to walk to school would then allow them to do so.

So how is TOMS doing in fulfilling its mission?

In 2010, four years after its founding, TOMS surpassed the one million mark in shoe donations, and by October of 2011 that number had doubled (check out the 2012 TOMS Giving Report). In April of this year, participants at over 3,000 events in 50 countries and on 275 campuses around the world joined in TOMS’ “One Day Without Shoes” movement to bring awareness to the cause. Fueled by the simplicity and tangible nature of its cause, TOMS has continued to grow in popularity.

Some opponents have pointed out, however, that the shoe drops orchestrated by TOMS do little to solve underlying problems. Free shoes, while solving certain issues in the short-term, fail to benefit the local economy or provide jobs in the long term. This video, based on details from a report by Good Intentions, an organization that provides research to donors on charities, claims that shoe give-aways compete with local markets.

In an article with Women’s Wear Daily, however, Mycoskie acknowledged this problem, stating that TOMS hopes to install a factory in one of the areas it helps, and that a test location has been set up in Ethiopia. The long-term goal is “to have shoes made by the people we are serving.” So while the current model provided by TOMS may have shortcomings, it seems that bigger and better solutions are on the horizon.


5 thoughts on “Cause for Concern?

  1. TOMS has also started an eye wear line, recognizing that individuals with impaired vision who cannot afford corrective lenses are high in numbers in underprivileged communities. TOMS has paired with Delta Gamma on this mission and as a result has received mass donations of glasses since the project’s launch in 2011

  2. I almost wrote about this company! When I was looking through articles, I actually found a few saying that TOMS is a scam. You should definitely check those out for your paper. I don’t believe it, but it was pretty interesting. It seems that there isn’t a single company that can get by without getting some kind of criticism or accusation of unethical practices.

  3. While first reading this I thought of the of the old saying:

    “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

    After watching the video, I realized that the problem was not even close to the saying. The video brings up the argument that shoes are not that big of a deal, and are currently sold in every country on earth. Its also interesting to see that shoe and clothes donations are having a harmful affect on the economies of these impoverished nations. Building a factory that will employ local workers seems to be a better idea, but it seems ironically close to the outsourcing that tainted Nike’s reputation.

  4. I personally think that people use TOMS as a good excuse to buy shoes. It’s easier to justify a purchase if you are telling yourself that is it going to a good cause. But how many Americans actually looked into where their donations were going and if it was actually helping? I couldn’t tell you that answer, but my guess is not many. I’m not bashing on TOMS, but all I’m saying is do your research. For example, my mom runs a store in our church and 100% of the profits are donated to charity that we all decide on. I know exactly where the money is going, so I have no problem buying and buying and buying =]

  5. @MEllamo You are right that charity fraud is an issue, in part because people generously trust many who present themselves as doing good works.

    I want to know more about this. There are often two kinds of needs in super-impoverished areas: right now and capacity building. I find it hard to imagine in super-high need areas where kids are barefoot there is a thriving local cobble market that TOMS is under-cutting. But I need to see the video.

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