Do You Cause More Harm than Good by Giving TOMS Shoes to the Poor? on Zacstravaganza! is a carefully presented indictment of TOMS Shoes. I have a pair of TOMS that I got a few years ago, charmed by the idea that it’s ethical to give away a pair of shoes with each pair that I buy.
I want another pair of alpargatas because they’re classy and comfy, and although I like TOMS style, I’ve been looking around for another vendor because I now think that TOMS is gimmicky.
The article on Zacstravaganza! points out a few big problems with TOMS that show that TOMS is a business that sells a social justice hipster image. The author points out that hookworm is probably the number one pathogen that wearing shoes prevents, but TOMS literature never mentions it directly, but does mention more rare conditions; TOMS well aware of the problems it’s supposed to be addressing. Worse, there is duplicity in TOMS’ model:
TOMS is making oodles of money on both the shoes you buy for yourself as well as the shoes you buy for charity. Yes, a single pair of these shoes per se is really only worth about $5 - but that figure is only applicable if Blake Mycoskie is manufacturing these shoes and sending them to the Third World himself; but if you buy a pair of Pink Murray Organic Cotton Men’s Vegans online for $54 the cost which you pay to give a pair of shoes to Ndugu the Amhara cattle herder is more or less half that - or $27.
Zac talks about conversations he would have with a Mali national who would explain why his kids don’t have shoes:
“Yeah, well, I don’t have to buy them shoes because one day The White People are going to come back and give shoes to the children. My kids don’t have shoes because The White People haven’t come yet!”
I’d rather pay half as much for my shoes and give the other half to Doctors Without Borders, or blow it at Starbucks, whatever. The Life You Can Save has a good list of organizations to give to that do effective work against critical problems, with high efficiency and accountability.