Moe here. If you know me at all, you probably can’t believe that it’s nearly two years into the JW Justice Blog before I’m publishing an official TOMS Shoes rant. I’ve shown restraint–but here we gooooo!
Photo by Eric May
In my search for development being done right in the world, one of my primary examples of unsustainable aid has long been TOMS shoes. Their “buy one, give one” model is widely criticized in the development aid world, although sometimes it’s hard to sift through the economist jargon and actually understand why they’re so anti-TOMS.
One of the primary reasons that I believe it’s a poor model is that even the farthest reaches of developing nations have markets, and consequently shoe sellers. For every free pair of TOMS that hits the ground in the bush, that’s one less pair sold by the local seller, which takes away from natural economic growth. (TOMS has made some improvement in moving a large–though not the majority–chunk of their manufacturing into the countries they aim to help, but they’re still giving away free shoes, which I believe is a great part of the problem).
I could say more about that (feel free to ask me if you want more info!), but for today I want to share another perspective on TOMS and similar models that I hadn’t heard first hand before–the problems with the actual shoe distribution. This article at whydev.org by an Australian aidworker tells that story of all the problems with the logistics and the fact that in the end, numerous children who were promised shoes still didn’t receive them due to sizing issues. He writes:
“[The TOMS model is] told as a neat and easy solution. The reality is not; it’s messy, complicated and not terribly effective. Trying to reach so many children with shoes creates many holes and problems for communities. Some children receive shoes, some don’t. Some shoes get taken from children by adults or even sold. Local shoe vendors lose sales–why buy a pair when someone will give them to you? Perhaps it’s time for TOMS to rethink its model.”