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Ethical footwear: other peoples' ethics

Ethical Consumer Magazine headings
Planet - environment

Animals

People and more

Rank-a-brand format

ethical reporting | nuclear power | climate change | pollution & habitats | animal rights | human rights | worker rights | marketing | product sustainability | politics

Ethical Fashion definitions

bonobo ape pondering ethical instinctsOther peoples' ethical choices always look odd, particularly as a checklist of subheadings. Headings and context to give some pattern of meaning to them. People, planet, & animals is a good set of headings that might help make sense of the Ethical Consumer Magazine checklist for their "Ethiscore", covered below.

Ethical fashion organisations' checklists beg questions, too, and give no facts in reply. If you are not interested in vegan shoes for example, this whole site probably looks a bit odd to you as other peoples' ethics look odd to us. And checklists don't spell-out ethics as ethics at all, but just areas of concern; a checklist cannot quote facts and it cannot quote the logical links between facts. Frustrating if you are on a fashion course or make a living from the rag trade, and not on a philosophy course: what books do you turn to? If you disagree with a vague, subsidised conventional wisdom of Estethica fashion weeks, PR, and fashion journalism that follows, what is the hard argument to disagree with?

Ethical ethics

"Ethical" is the least useful word to use about ethics. Why write about "ethical ethics"? Unless to grab attention before jumping to another vacuous definition based on a few environmental credentials. Or maybe to claim a public grant.

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, including Labour Behind the Label:

"There are lots of companies who brand themselves as 'ethical' and retail across Europe and the Internet. Each of these companies has a different standard by which they define themselves as ethical, be it environmental credentials, organic cotton, fair trade cotton, or workers rights. It is important for these companies to be transparent about what their 'ethical' approach is about and to report publicly on their efforts. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing – many brands are called ethical but some are only based on a few environmental credentials".

Water for the Elephants by Sara Grueen - her previous book before one about Bonobos, for which this publicity picture was taken and got onto the internet from where pinchedEthical Trading Initiative is one of the first organisations to use the phrase "ethical trading": a trade association set-up with another public subsidy, to help the mainstream garment industry "adopt a code ... issues like wages, hours ... safety ... right to join a free trades union".

Ethical trade means that retailers, brands and their suppliers take responsibility for improving the working conditions of the people who make the products they sell. Most of these workers are employed by supplier companies around the world, many of them based in poor countries where laws designed to protect workers' rights are inadequate or not enforced.

The Ethical Trading Initiative does not focus on promoting production from democratic welfare states like the UK, even though it could have been a UK civil servant who coined the phrase "ethical trading". You can imagine the conversation. "What can way say this organisation is for?". "Small changes for the better compared to what happens now in China - we can't say anything specific so lets just say 'ethical' ". The organisation's director acknowledges that membership of the trade association is often mistaken for an achievement; something vague to boast about called "ethical", when it is at best a way for companies to compare notes about what to tell consumers who ask them to change.

Ethical Fashion Forum and their relatives the International Trade Centre Ethical Fashion Initiative have turned their phrase inte government-backed PR campaigns of the mid 2000s. Before that time, the managing director of Ethical Fashion Forum acknowledges that that phrase was barely used. Internet searches for the term began with a PR effort launched at the Estethica room London Fashion Week in September 2005, and were concentrated in the UK where several government agencies gave this new lobby group and buzzword publicity, including the V&A museum, the Fashion and Textile Museum, The Crafts Council, the British Fashion Council and the British Council alongside a grant from Department for International Development, Business Link, The London Development Agency, Unltd, The National Lottery, The Guardian Newspaper Group and a government funded office block called Rich Mix. At the time, those who incfluenced Rich Mix and the London Development Agency "read like a who's who of the London Labour Party", but fashion is not party political; British Fashion Council's Estethica Room for Ethical Fashion is sponsored by Monsoon who are also donors to the Conservative Party and have been promoted at UK embassies. ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative is part-controlled by governments in Ghana and Kenya.

Subsidy doesn't make the term helpful. It hinders. It begs the question "what is ethical fashion?", to be answered by whatever organisation presents itself to debate, in whatever way suits them. In almost every case that I have seen, discussion ignores what is staring UK consumers in the face, which is that production in democratic welfare states has benefits over production in China; the best way to improve conditions in China is to stop buying so many goods from that country until it changes. To have a conditional tariff and for consumers to make their own informed choices about what countries to buy clothes from. To have labels which say where goods are made. Possibly, over time, to have an NHS or pensions or unemployment pay in countries like Bangladesh. To have less pressure towards over-population caused by overcrowding and poverty. These are the only vaguely ethical improvements worth trumpeting, achieved in countries all-around the world, rich and poor, but UK government is silent about them, opposing even any law to say that clothing has to be labelled to say where it's made.

The final quote should go to McDonalds McLibel case, defending a term like "ethical fashion". It was "nutritious meals":

Miss Steel: "Is there any food you know of that is not nutritious?"
McDonalds spokesman: "I do not know if you would call it food or not, but you could put up an argument for black coffee or black tea or mineral water."

Ethical fashion facts & checklists: other ideas

Ethical areas of concern from other check-lists are a disappointment too. You'd expect an ethic to be something logical, but the logical sequence is lost in a list of headings. Take nuclear power. I thought the problem was that there's no way to get shot of spent fuel. But some people are against other sorts of energy production as well; the heading does not explain an ethic to me as a real person could do.

Ethical Consumer magazine's headings, and Rank-a-Brand headings, are applied to Veganline.com on this page in the hope that we can get a listing and some free publicity. Both lists are summaries of widely-held areas of concern, and so both look odd when read as a list of headings. Laid-out as sub-headings under Planet, People, and Animals, they make more sense than the headings at the top of this page.

On another page we compare the Riotstopper locally-made T shirt with a fairtrade T shirt and a generic listing for advertised and value brands to suggest that Riotstoppers could be the ultimate ethical T shirt.

Bouncing Boots were rated a "Best Buy" by Ethical Consumer magazine's ethicscore, which is an amalgam of various ethics.
Unlike most such, Ethical Consumer magazine is neither a PR job for someone promoting Chinese stuff on UK government subsidy, like No plans. Not our business. A simple label to say what country a product comes-from would be one of the main ways to help people buy ethical fashion, but no equivalent of True Italy exists in the UK and no law to say that goods have to be labelled. There is an old law that things can't be imported if they're made by prison labour, but it has proved un-enforceable. The un-stated ethic is that the market works better without labelling costs; the choice of a consumer based on a country of origin is not useful, and that if a country develops and become richer, only then is it likely to develop more human rights or other rights. The argument is a stupid one but widely held by wealthy people in poor countries, and by the pressure groups they subsidise. Here is an example quoted in New Internationalist Magazine of a fashion consultant pretending that life in Hackney, near her office, is the same is life in China despite Hackney Hospital being free to patients and a thousand other differences that she knows about perfectly well. If pressed, consultants like this will quote examples of factories that use staff who don't have work visas and so don't complain, which is a bit of sophistry and a distraction. There are sophisticated ways of talking about UK sweatshops employing people without work visas, like talking about the need for conditional tariffs to make other countries introduce better government, including pensions which would reduce the pressure for people there to have to many children, but this kind of argument is not what's being asked-for. It's easier just to state the fact that people without work visas who work long hours in UK workshops are rare and have plenty of access to free health services beyond any available in Bangladesh or China.

Adam Vaughan, Guardian and New Internationalist journalist, in an article headlined Why Nike is Good:
"If we can generally guess what the problems are, can we shop by country, picking good ones and bad ones? Usually you can see where a product was made."

Claire Lissaman, Nike consultant: "I don't think you can compare countries. You're just as likely to have a sweatshop down the road here in London in the east end as you are in China, India or Bangladesh. One of the best factories I've come across in the world was in China. One of the worst factories I've come across in the world was in China."

Ethical fashion headings from Ethical Consumer Magazine

Italics are paraphrased Ethiscore headings & explanations.
The best rating is three out of three for all the headings. They call scores one and two "negative ratings". colouring-in
and explanation in plain type is from Veganline, not Ethiscore: this is a self-assessment with no advice of involvement from anyone else.

Planet: Environmental Reporting

1/3: no specified targets nor discussion of impacts in any report
2/3: two quantified targets or discussion of impacts. No recently dated documents, or no reasonable understanding of main impacts, or not independently verified
3/3: two quantified targets or discussion of impacts
& dated in last 2 years
& reasonable understanding
& independently verified
3/3: small business specialising in the supply of products with low environmental impacts or which are of environmental benefit or which offer other social benefits

Veganline.com is in the underlined group. Non leather shoes are of course lower in environmental impact than equivalent leather shoes for reasons given below but not usually so low in their environmental impact that you can put them in the compost bin. A very small proportion of shoes are plastic-top & might intuitively seem to have a greater environmental impact than a more natural-looking leather-top equivalent. These are a very small proportion of sales and discussed more below.

Veganline.com promotes a separate ethic of sustaining the local economy despite the economic policies of government and banks in this part of the world which have very much reduced the scale, margins, and variety of UK shoe manufacturing. This may clash with the environmental ethic of and some related tastes for natural products.

Planet: Nuclear Power - no direct investment

1/3 making running or commissioning nuclear equipment or uranium; being in a nuclear trade association.
2/3 production of ancillary equipment for monitoring, testing, communication, seals, power transmission, temperature and pressure measuring, gas and water analysers, air coolers, compressors, pumps valves & IT. Or nuclear waste treatment & storage
3/3 no evidence for involvement in nuclear power
 
Veganline.com is in the underlined group. It would sell safety boots to nuclear workers and probably has done.

Planet: Climate Change

"negative ... criticised for involvement in sectors considered by Ethical Consumer to contribute significantly to climate change .... fossil fuels, aviation, cars or cement, or

criticised for having high levels of contribution to climate change emissions, by direct emissions through its products or

by making misleading claims about climate change"
 
1/3 trades "deemed by us" to be a higher contributor to climate change (such as fossil fuels) or involvement in more than one areas deemed less so, for example cars, aviation and lobbying.
2/3 involvement in one of the less significant areas
3/3 "no criticisms have been found under this category" in the list of publications.
This is a guess as we haven't checked the database on the Corporate Critic web page. There may be the odd note that our footwear was a mixed-shelf of different sorts of products, mentioned as a sort of also-ran mention next to reviews of other ethical shops. There may be mention of the odd far-eastern product we sell that has to be shipped round the world and pay for an empty ship back the other way.

This test geared to large companies is about "involvement" but another score system could mention the way we run an office with a solar thermal panel, all but one of the recommendations for house insulation and a carpet dating back to 1977.
Veganline.com buys much more of its stock from local manufacturers than big-brand shops, fairtrade, organic or "ethical" ones, so we are not sending empty container ships back to China and the far east from Europe as they do. You can see one of our supply chains here.

Planet / Pollution & tonic waste

"prosecuted or criticised by government or campaign groups for emissions of toxic or damaging substances, or
involved in manufacture or sale of chemicals or products containing chemicals which are a cause of concern because of their impacts on human and animal health and the environment (eg. toxic or bio-accumulative chemicals, ozone depleting chemicals or pesticides & herbicides)."

 
1/3 "One major criticism (such as a major pollution incident)
or a number of minor criticisms (ie. involvement in nanotechnology, unsustainable packaging, small fines for pollution"
2/3 "One or two minor criticisms"
3/3 No criticisms have been found under this category

Veganline.com promotes local production. People in every part of the world do this - seeking out local products, feeling good in locally-made clothes, and making their local economy more stable and able to innovate. Industry around the world benefits from a sympathetic home market, and buyers round the world then benefit from suppliers who adapt better to their tastes and adapt with them when their part of the world gets richer or poorer.
This means that if we want to put soles on our shoes there are only certain options available: we can't just go to another sole moulding company and the existing one can't just run-up a new product. For this reason we use PVC soles. PVC soles replaced rubber in the 1960s because they cure faster in the mould and last a long time. They don't pollute the environment except when burned at ordinary temperatures, when they produce unhealthy smoke. The quantity of PVC-related chemicals in the atmosphere hasn't risen while the material has been in use, so the only polluting effect is to people near the bonfire.
 
 
Some people who are used to looking for shoes to go in the compost bin, assume that everything is made in China, and see green goods as the only ethical type of good might be surprised by the PVC soles on Bouncing Boots sold by Veganline.com because they're made in the UK. PVC smoke is toxic if it's burned at most temperatures. Greenpeace disapproves but a PVC.org notes that it's not a bio-accumulative poison according to evidence of pollution since PVC was invented. UK production of hot-melted soles is always done next to an extractor fan and most recently done near something more subtle.

There's a good reason for using PVC soles which is that they are what British industry can make, and buying what's available sustains local manufacturing in UK working conditions. The moulds cost £4,000 per pair to make and are kept at an injection-moulding factory that won't use recycled PVC. One shoe supplier - the one that uses Solovair soles - does pass on scrapings of PVC to be used elsewhere.

Veganline.com should also score well on other emissions by buying UK and European-made footwear: the far greater problem of animal emissions is reduced by using non-leather shoe tops. We may score 3/3.
  • AZO  In the UK and Europe, the use of 22 suspect AZO dyes have been discouraged by laws banning their use in each member state, following an EU directive. The dyes are most likely still used, for example in cloth and shoe uppers brought-in to the EU, but company buyers have to be aware of the problem and batches of material - including all the microfibre shoe upper - that are made in the EU should be AZO-free, as should be the Italian shoe upper material used for Albanian safety boots.

  • VOC  In the UK and Europe, governments have agreed to outlaw industrial-scale glue users using volatile organic compounds to dissolve their glue as most of us consumers do. Only the trickier process of forming an emulsion of glue in hot water to spray onto the bits is legal. When a shoe is marked "made in UK" or "made in EU" that generally means that the uppers have been stretched round a mould and stuck-on to a sole in that country, so it's fair to say that a shoe made in the EU has produced few volatile organic compounds and this has a direct effect on footwear employees: an old survey of Portuguese shoe factory staff found reduced fertility among people who had to smell volatile organic solvents all day before the EU directive, and that effect is now reduced by buying EU shoes. Surprisingly, it is possible to glue shoes at home - many UK motorcycle boots used to be made by home workers and some Portuguese loafers still are - so the process may be beyond the reach of anyone who can enforce the law, but hopefully home workers are at least aware of the problem and can open a window and turn-on a fan.

Planet / Habitats and Resources

"destroy or damage the environment through unsustainable resource extraction...land use, or
destruction of specific habitats, depleting bio-diversity and reducing the ability of ecosystems to renew themselves, including un-sustainable fishing & forestry or impacting on the habitats & lives of endangered species"


1/3 major criticism or more than two minor criticisms
2/3 one or two minor criticisms
3/3 no criticisms

Leather is bad for the environment.
Most of us have heard of vegetable tanning as an environmentally friendly alternative to chrome tanning in third world tanneries with the pollution alongside. Intuitively, some people might think that's the end of the story about a natural product like leather if they've never thought about being vegetarian, but it's plain from a the executive summery of a recent UN report, Livestock's Long Shadow, that the livestock population is higher than it should be.

The animal industry has reached an un-sustainable size, in its greenhouse emissions which are greater than the aviation industry, the tendency of subsistence farmers to over-graze land, and the tendency of more developed farmers to buy animal feed grown on land that would otherwise feed humans (or be rain forest or whatever else). Growing food for animals and eating the meat is far less efficient than just growing food.

Animals / Animal Testing

Obviously 3/3

Animals / Factory Farming

Obviously 3/3

Animals / Animal Rights

Obviously 3/3. Leathers and pre-sewn uppers for shoes tend to come from third world countries where animal welfare can't be a priority. Even where

People / Human Rights

This is a list of regimes:
Belerus, Burma, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China, Cote D'Ivoire, Cuba, Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, UAE, USA Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.

1/3 Operations in six or more of the regimes listed. Or (ii)
a) use of company equipment staff or facilities in perpetrating human rights abuses
b) human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces associated with company operations
c) involvement in projects which have proven links with human rights abuses
d) collaboration with government or military in perpetrating human rights abuses
e) allegations of human rights abuses by company staff. Or (iii)
land rights abuses, specific instances where indigenous peoples have been or may be removed from their land or whose livelihoods may be threatened, to facilitate corporate operations.

2/3 Operations in two or more of the regimes
A company will not loose a mark if all its products sourced from these regimes are fair trade.

3/3 Veganline.com doesn't have anything that could be called "operations" outside the UK but do sell shoes imported from a fairtrade factory in Pakistan.

Estethica at London Fashion Week is a strange exhibition of goods from countries which abuse human rights, such as the Terra Plana shoes from China shown a few years ago. "Estethica has evolved to become the hub of London's ethical fashion industry", according to their blurb, which seems such a strange thing to say that you'd expect it to get in the papers that this taxpayer-backed enterprise said strange things. Until you read what a Nike consultant gets away with saying while talking for a "forum" which is supposedly promotes something called "ethical fashion":

"I don't think you can compare countries. You're just as likely to have a sweatshop down the road here in London in the east end as you are in China, India or Bangladesh. One of the best factories I've come across in the world was in China. One of the worst factories I've come across in the world was in China."

The curious thing about that is that the East End of London has universal health insurance and basic pensions, a justice system, votes and a garment industry. To describe only the factory and not the country is puzzling because the same fashion experts are happy to promote fairtrade products which are scored on whether a premium price pays towards things like health care. It's a funny use of language and a funny thing that it's not ridiculed more.

People / Workers' Rights

"In industries where supply chains commonly stretch into law wage economies we expect companies to have developed a publicly available supply chain policy addressing workers' rights at supplier companies."
1) no use of forced labour
2) freedom of association
3) payment of a living wage
4) working week limited to 48 hours and 12 hours' overtime
5) eliminations of child labour (under 15 or 14 if a country has ILO exemption)
6) no discrimination by race, sex etc.
7) independent monitoring
"Codes with all 7 clauses will receive the best rating.
Companies which manufacture products that are labelled and certified as Fair Trade or smaller companies (turnover less than £5m) which can show an effective, if not necessarily explicit, policy addressing workers' rights at supplier companies will also relieve a best rating. As will companies that operate in sectors where Ethical Consumer Research Association considers supply chains un-necessary.
1/3 No policy or 0-3 clauses.
2/3 4-6 clauses
3/3 7 clauses."

Veganline.com has a much higher standard on most of the products it sells, reversing the conventional wisdom about whether you can still get things made in high wage countries. We do. And we sell for a low mark-up with low overheads to make it work, just as the suppliers are lean organisations.

Exceptions are Sports Direct.com plc's Green Flash Trainers made in Vietnam, which we've just asked for information about, and Ascot (S & F) International Ltd who import their designs of plastic football boot. Another supplier, RSS Edge Shoes Ltd moved production of plastic court shoes to India from the UK. We've now sold the last of their stock. The first UK-made replacement court shoe is in stock, and we hope to find better ways of marketing it or slightly different designs in future.

People / Irresponsible Marketing

1/3 Marketing ... criticised for causing severe physical harm. The manufacture or sale of tobacco products automatically receives a worst rating in this category as does the infringement of the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes. Our lowest rating could also indicate several minor criticisms in this area.
2/3 Marketing ... criticised as being detrimental to health or likely to cause injury. This includes the use of excessively thin or childlike models in fashion advertising.

3/3 No criticisms have been found under this category for the company in question.

Veganline.com tried doing business with London Fashion Week without success. They have made some progress on near-dead models but not yet learned that they are a job creation agency, so Veganline.com is not associated with their actions.

Our style of business is low-margin and low-advertising in order to allow us to sell UK-made shoes, so the odd little Google advert that we pay for with less than 5% of turnover wouldn't have space to say anything irresponsible, even if we wanted to. When we last paid for print advertising it was all in ethically-slanted magazines like The Big Issue's New Consumer or The Vegan, so the most bizarre claims would probably have been questioned as they might upset the other advertisers.

People: Arms & Military Supply

Video of Bonobo ape firing an AK47 gun1/3 Involvement in the manufacture or supply of nuclear or conventional weapons including: ships, tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft; weapons systems components; systems aiding the launch, guidance, delivery or deployment of missiles; fuel; computing; communications services.
2/3 A clear circle (middle rating) represents the manufacture or supply of non-strategic parts for the military, not including food and drink.
3/3 No criticisms have been found under this category for the company in question.

Veganline.com has occasionally supplied the arms forces and prison service with individual pairs of shoes, but official contracts go to a lead supplier in Spain and the only UK contract is a Cavalry Boot order which UK suppliers have to pay £545 + VAT to read. Such is the quality of UK procurement. So: we would work out an offer to supply the UK military but our government won't let us. We'd like to sell lightweight boots for pilots as well, but have not got around to using the old tools. The issue of selling to other armed forces isn't likely to arise.

By the way, if you click on the photo it takes you to a video of a Bonobo firing an AK47

Politics: Political Activity

1/3 £50,000 or more to a political party, indirectly, "in soft money" or not in the last 5 years, or has membership of 3 or more lobby groups, or has directly lobbied governments or supranational institutions on trade liberalisation issues.
2/3 Membership of 2 or less lobby groups, or a smaller donation to political parties in the last 5 years, or secondment of staff to political parties, governments or supranational institutions. A lobby group is defined as a corporate lobby group which lobbies for free trade at the expense of the environment, animal welfare, human rights or health protection. A current list of such groups includes:

    • American Chamber of Commerce/AMCHAM-EU
    • Bilderberg Group
    • Business Action for Sustainable Development
    • Business Round Table
    • European Round Table of Industrialists
    • European Services Forum
    • International Chamber of Commerce
    • Transatlantic Business Dialogue
    • Trilateral Commission
    • US Coalition of Service Industries
    • World Business Council for Sustainable Development
    • World Economic Forum

3/3 Veganline.com doesn't have a company structure so there's no formal distance between things done for work and outside of work. Broadly, for work there are tasks like paying a small amount to the Vegan Society and registering to use the vegan logo, and possibly other similar in future. Veganline has made several things like freedom of information requests or notes to politicians, quangos and online bulletin boards on the subject of UK manufacturing. I've contacted Euro-MPs about reasons to retain or increase tariffs on China Vietnam and Cambodian products because of the associated human rights records, and because claims by the high street chains that you can't get shoes made in Europe are false. I've written facts on facebook and on this site to expose Ethical Fashion Forum.

Outside of work the issue of bogus trades unions has come-up, but that's another story.

Politics: Boycott Call

1/3 A boycott of the brand name featured in the report has been called somewhere in the world or a boycott of the entire company group has been called.
2/3 A boycott of one of the parent company’s subsidiaries or
3/3 No known boycott

Planet: Genetic Engineering

1/3
i)non-medical genetic modification of plants or animals, and/or
ii) gene patenting, and/or
iii) xenotransplantation.
2/3
i) the manufacture or sale of non-medical products involving or containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and/or
ii) the manufacture or sale of non-medical products likely to contain GMOs and the lack of a clear company group-wide GMO free policy, and/or
iii) public statements in favour of the use of GMOs in non-medical products.
iv) the development or marketing of medical procedures or products involving genetic modification, which have been criticised on ethical grounds.
3/3 N/A

Politics: Anti-Social Finance

Ratings are based on criticisms for activities which are likely to impact negatively on the economic well-being of the societies that companies operate in, including:
tax evasion and havens;
bribery and corruption,
insider share dealing,
involvement in Third World debt,
price fixing,
irresponsible marketing of financial products,
excessive directors’ remuneration.

3/3 - none applies. We had one income tax inspection and were found to owe next to nothing once mistakes both ways had balanced out. On the same tax return are various P2P lending deals - including some but not many to bad companies.

Politics: Company Ethos

This category is intended to draw the attention of consumers to company groups who, by structural innovation or clear product policies, demonstrate an ethos comitted to sustainability. We understand sustainability to include

    • environmental,
    • social justice and
    • animal rights elements.

3. The web site is to change soon and with it some old-stock & distractions.
We sustain or draw attention to the social justice of making things close to home, hiring people who's Jobs any of us might do ourselves. We sustain animal rights elements by getting special batches of vegan footwear made as well as selling things like slippers and building the word "vegan" into the brand and marketing.

Recently our efforts may have done more harm than good to the cause of fashionable animal rights, but other companies have filled the gap but we have sold shoes at high street prices so perhaps we have done more good than harm in a frumpy back-street way. For example a lot of people buy velcro-top slippers for swollen feet and ask themselves "what does 'vegan' mean?". This is good.

Lastly we have done some environmental good by default and a little by promoting an "eco-shoe" at the moment with a natural hemp upper.


Labelling is imposed by government to say what country a shoe is made in and what parts of it are leather or textile. From these labels it's possible to guess how green a vegan shoe is and something about the civil and welfare rights of the people who made it.

  • Fair trade labelling from Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International members - the blue & green symbol on coffee - does not much exist in a standardised way for shoes. The scheme only applies to certain listed countries that have been judged third-world at some point in the past. UK and US factories are excluded as well as Turkish, while Indian can be included. As the wealth of different countries changes more rapidly than most of us can keep-track of, the list stays the same. The general problem of knowing what suppliers are doing and whether the money trickles-down is made worse in societies without proper votes or human rights like China, so the scheme can't be monitored there even though China is on the list. Even where it's legal to ask questions, a shoe's origins are wrapped in a long supply system which is seldom all in one country or known to one person. Small shops, like individual consumers and even large branded clothing merchants have trouble finding out which of their shoes are good shoes with bad PR and which are not-so-bad shoes with good PR. Just as the classic idea that buying cheapest helps everyone is messy and easy to find-fault with, the idea that trying to buy more goods from countries with a welfare state, or more goods from the better third world employers and fairtrade certified ones is just as messy. Ethletic and Sole Rebels shoes are fair trade certified.

    Some importers belong to a trade association - the Ethical Trade Initiative - which compares notes about minimum standards and helps the companies make sure their stories to the press are consistent with each other; the products of these companies aren't singled-out.
  • Country of origin labels lead to information about the human rights in each country, some of it collated by EthicalTrade.org , an association set-up for large high-street traders that tries to co-ordinate claims made by member firms and maybe improve the effect on producers of mainstream high-street imports. By it's own admission, the organisation can only exert gentle pressure on members by sharing problems and good ideas between them. Veganline.com is a small firm and not a member but some products we sell like Blizzard Boots are made for member companies, and most of the EthicalTrade.org information is free to everyone, as is information from human rights organisations and governments.

    Veganline.com buys the maximum proportion of shoes from countries with useful courts, votes, and a welfare state. Others might sensibly think that to buy - indirectly- from the worst places on earth is the default option for improving conditions in bad places; that the Primark buyer is already helping the third world to a certain extent and that it is only the odds-and-ends like organic recycled laces that are newsworthy in this process. This is a neat view. Everyone reading this will have bought apparel from wherever their usual shop gets it, and to pretend not would by hypocritical. To buy from the worst place in earth (or wherever cheapness is combined with productivity: Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Burma rather than southern Sudan) is also a rational view held by well-informed people. Mrs Thatcher stated a decade or two ago that to trade with China might improve human rights there but she has still not been proved right, much, much as conditions have improved in Taiwan.

    For those who want to feel good in their clothes, there is another option of preferring goods from Taiwan to China, or whatever the equivalent is: to buy a few products from nice places in the hope of encouraging them more viable than nasty places.

    To buy shoes from nice countries and link to league tables on the net are ways of strengthening the economies of nice countries and the importance of league tables on the net. These benefits are matched by more obscure ones. The chances of wealth trickling-down the buying chain, so that the shoe maker is paid more and the advertising department less, is greater if the shoe is made in a country with universal schools & pensions than in China which privatised its hospitals in the 1990s for example or Burma which never had many. Environmental and employment laws are much more detailed in some countries than others, too.

    Governments and pressure groups are much less interested in publicising the countries with the most comfortable welfare states than those with the most democracy and legal rights. The CIA World Fact book even slips-in a criticism of Italy's "excessive pensions". And federal countries like India and the USA can have very different welfare in each state from which shoes are stamped "made in USA" or "Made in India" so the idea of a country does fall-down for this purpose. Some vegan shoes shops have used a factory in Wisconsin. Veganline.com used a UK factory which then moved to India - we have no way of knowing which state.
  • The Footwear (Indication of Composition) Labelling Regulations 1995 give any UK consumer a chance to see how environmentally friendly a product is: a recent UN report, Livestock's Long Shadow, listed massive environmental benefits of reducing the use of animal products, quite apart from reducing cruelty to animals which is obviously a sane thing to be interested in. There's no need to read the whole thing. The first page or two summarises the rest as do in the Vegan Society's leaflets Eating the Earth and Give Leather the Boot.

    One problem of about ethical and environmental claims made of footwear is that they concentrate too much on the details, like whether something is organic, or made in an interesting employment project in the third world, or improves conditions in China by a small amount while still undercutting factories in the UK or India. From a journalist's point of view it is an attempt to find new news in footwear. Footwear changes slower than tailoring because the tooling costs are higher; a fashion designer can get a sewing machine for free to make samples while a shoe designer can't do much before buying £15,000 stretching machines from Taiwan or £1,000 injection moulds for each size of sole. Exceptions are larger companies which know they can sell a thousand or a hundred thousand and factor-in the tooling and set-up costs without even thinking about it - one of their suppliers' criticisms - but these produce for the sleepy middle market making them boring to read about even for the people who buy middle-market shoes from mainstream shops.

    Some shoemakers are extra-ordinarily thrifty with two of Veganline.com's suppliers still keeping a hundred year-old machines in their factories and some of the moulds or lasts dating from the 1940s, but it's hard to report a green use of tools unless you're writing for Footwear Today in the past, before it closed.

    From a reader's point of view, journalists' articles over many years have been absorbed and digested and tend to say that footwear has gone to China now; there is nothing to be done in countries with things like courts votes or a welfare state, only attempts to help outsiders from even poorer countries join the market or manufacturers with a green and organic tinge. This is not a statement of the facts. Some footwear is still produced in the UK, Spain, France and Portugal for example in factories following employment laws and paying taxes towards welfare states. It's just what's in the papers.

    If there was a fair way of saying how quickly work should move from comfortable countries to hard-working countries, it would be possible to say that that production fairly transferred from the UK or India to China is not newsworthy in either country until any unusual fact emerges in either country, which is called news. If it is not possible to say how quickly work should transfer: if some governments hike-up or hike-down their exchange rates to suit the elite in the UK or China, as both do, if autocracies compete unfairly with welfare states and the judges of dumping into the EU and US are Peter Mandelson or his US counterpart, then it's hard to know what fair trade is.

    Should an enterprising factory that stays open in the UK be reported like a charity? Or if it's working conditions are better than China but worse than the UK, a bad scandal if in the UK or a beacon of hope in China? Reporting of textile workers' conditions suggests that, after being flogged to death, if their bodies are disposed of in an eco-friendly way then that gets a good press if it's in China but if the same shop employs people for less than the basic wage in Manchester than that's a bad thing because it makes a mess on the pavement. Turkish, Indian or Indonesian factories are not reported as good or bad because the two extremes are so hard to report, any position between the two is impossible to report. That's an exaggerated description but one company - Patagonia - with a very good reputation for well made hiking boots, transparency, enthusiasm and such made it into the Observer Ethical Fashion awards for just those reasons, even though their adverts the same year for factory inspectors mentioned almost nothing about employee's conditions, the shoes were made in China and they were made out of leather. Such is Patagonia's transparency that their newly employed factory inspector posted a believable account of his views in video and audio format on U-tube. He stated that the only job he wouldn't want to do among his employer's contractor's staff in China was gluing; that the choice of leathers in the past had been extravagant "because it's like putting one plate through the dishwasher" and of course he mentions nothing about employing staff in an autocracy. He might mention it in private, but even this transparent company with its good reputation for good boots doesn't write "we support autocracies" in its PR and somehow this factory inspector must have known this when he considered what to put on U-tube.

    In this impossibility are placed fashion journalists, who by nature are unlikely to be vegetarian or vegan because their job is to report on leather; they are unlikely to be troubled by goods made outside welfare states or democracies because that has been the overwhelming part of their job these last decades and anyway factory closures belong on the business pages. The job of a fashion journalist is to make a paper look more upmarket than any human being really is in order to attract advertisers and advertiser's readers. To report the posh new Hunter Wellington Boot for only £2,999 (Observer Special Offer) rather than the fact that Hunter now imports Chinese wellington boots. Gradually this job is turning-in to the job of reporting whether a boot made in the UK is better than a boot made in China; for the world of fashion journalism and shoes made in reasonable conditions out of reasonable materials to meet.

  • More labels will follow: Veganline.com is increasing the range of symbols and information links next to each shoe so that consumers can decide what to buy. Over time this information might include the more attention-grabbing features like a shoe being made in a staff-owned company, made using recycled parts, using organic hemp canvas or being fit for the compost bin.

Rank-a-Brand checklist

(RankABrand.org is a Dutch labelling initiative). If there is interest from customers or RankABrand we will write more on this. Meanwhile: a quick start.

Climate Change and Carbon Emissions

  1. Is there a policy for the brand (company) to minimise, reduce or compensate carbon emissions?
    Yes SOURCE - https://www.amee.com/companies/003441749-veganline-com
  2. Has the brand (company) disclosed the annual carbon footprint of its 'own operations' and has the brand already reduced or compensated 10% of these emissions in the last 5 years?
    No SOURCE - n/a
    Some of the tyre print or footprint is courier miles from the last stage of manufacture to us and out against to customers.
    https://sourcemap.com/ maps one box of 36 T shirts we bought from Hinckley in Leicestershire a while ago (minimum order is up to 200 now so we won't re-order). We will most likely map some other tyre miles in future.
  3. Has the brand (company) set a target to reduce the carbon footprint of its 'own operations' by at least 20% within the next 5 years?
    No: emissions from a home-based mail order business are already very low.
    Emissions from small shoe factories or wholesalers and couriers have to be higher, because they are doing more physical work, but are outside our direct control.
  4. Does the brand (company) also have a policy to reduce/compensate carbon emissions generated from the product supply chain that is beyond own operations?
    Yes: to reduce carbon emissions compared to the norm. SOURCE - to follow

Environmental Policy

  1. Does the brand (company) use environmentally 'preferred' raw materials for more than 5% of its volume?
    Hard to answer for a UK-based vegan brand. Vegan materials are environmentally more friendly than leather.
    SOURCE - to follow
  2. Does the brand (company) use environmentally 'preferred' raw materials for more than 10% of its volume?
    Hard to answer for a UK-based vegan brand. Vegan materials are environmentally more friendly than leather.
    SOURCE - to follow
  3. Does the brand (company) use environmentally 'preferred' raw materials for more than 25% of its volume?
    Hard to answer for a UK-based vegan brand. Vegan materials are environmentally more friendly than leather.
    We do use UK factories which tend to have tools and processes from the 1980s before economic policies shrank the industry. This means we have to use PVC where, if we were starting from scratch, we probably wouldn't because the smoke is bad to inhale directly if it's burned at low temperatures. The reason it was used in the 1980s is that it sets quickly.
    SOURCE - to follow
  4. Does the brand (company) have an environmental policy related to the ‘wet processes’ within the production cycle, like bleaching and dying of fabrics?
    Hard to answer for a UK-based vegan brand. Vegan materials are environmentally more friendly than leather.
    SOURCE - to follow

Questions about Labour Conditions/ Fair Trade

  1. Does the brand (company) have a supplier Code of Conduct (CoC) which includes the following standards:
    No forced or slave labour, no child labour, no discrimination of any kind and a safe and hygienic workplace?

    YES: the employment laws of the UK, Spain, Portugal & Albania cover most of our supply chain with the microfibre itself being finished in Italy. All but Albania are covered by EU directives on the forced & child labour, discrimination and safety.
    In the recent past we have sold plastic shoes after their production was moved from the UK to Uttar Pradesh in India, a state where the workers at a shoe factory were killed in a fire. We sell a few Green Flash Trainers from Vietnam. Neither of these countries is likely to have a welfare state or enforceable employment law, with Vietnam very much worse than Uttar Pradesh. All the plastic shoes are now sold-out and the Vietnamese trainers are selling-out.
    SOURCE - to follow
  2. Does this CoC include at least two of the following workers rights:
    a) to have a formally registered employment relationship
    YES: see Gov.co.uk for the UK case and equivalents in Spain and Portugal
    b) to have a maximum working week of 48 hours with voluntary paid overtime of 12 hours maximum
    YES: see Gov.co.uk for the UK case and equivalents in Spain and Portugal
    c) to have a sufficient living wage?

    YES: see Gov.co.uk for the UK case and equivalents in Spain and Portugal
  3. Does this Code of Conduct include the right for workers to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively; and in those situations where these rights are restricted under law, the right to facilitate parallel means of independent and free association and bargaining?
    YES: see Gov.co.uk for the UK case and equivalents in Spain and Portugal. The only UK supplier large enough to have regular staff has many Community-TU.org members working for it.
  4. Does the brand (company) have a published list of direct suppliers, that have collectively contributed to more than 90% of the purchase volume?
    NO, but we do publish a list of most known UK shoe factories at http://bit.ly/shoefactories
  5. Is the brand (company) a member of a collective initiative that aims to improve labour conditions, or does the brand (company) purchase its supplies from accredited factories with improved labour conditions?
    European Union factories are bound by the employment laws of member states, so in that sense they are accredited.
    Portugal, Spain, and the UK have various kinds of welfare state far in excess of that available to people working in for Fairtrade certified employers in developing countries, even where those countries are becoming richer than Portugal, Spain and the UK because of bad working conditions and cheap labour made available by over-population, itself a sign of the absence of a welfare state.
  6. Do independent civil society organisations like NGO's and labour unions have a decisive voice in this collective initiative or in these certification schemes?
    As a high-cost supplier, we have no margin for us to pay for certifications any more than there is money to pay for advertising. Presumably other UK producers have found the same and that is why there are few if any such schemes covering UK factories - the Fairtrade organisation excludes UK factories for example. From personal experience of being a union member with a bad employer, I can say that most UK labour unions are not helpful to their members.
  7. Does the brand (company) annually report on the results of its labour conditions policy?
    NO, but UK private sector factories firms appear relatively little in the published appeal cases of employment tribunals. One often quoted case - I think it is Jones v Tower Boot Co - is about a company that no longer exists and a long time ago.
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