Many brands and companies tend to use the expression ”Made in Europe” as a synonym for sustainable and responsible production. The same goes for using phrases such as ”all our fabrics come from European producers” or ”we only work with European suppliers”.
Europe is not one nor is it homogeneous. In fact, for example problematic working conditions and very low wages in particular, are the fact across global supply chains, not only in Asia. In Europe’s low-wage countries, the clothing and shoe industry has an unpleasant reputation for its poor pay and bad conditions.
A recent study by the international network Change Your Shoes shows how global shoe supply chains include low-wage countries in Europe. The study Labor on a Shoestring focuses on six European production countries, from which three are outside the EU: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Three EU countries are Poland, Romania and Slovakia, states with significant footwear sectors.
Researchers conducted interviews with 179 show workers at 12 factories. According to the study, these factories produce for internationally recognized brands such as Ara, Bata, Deichmann and Geox. Further, the study has looked into the subsidiaries of Ecco, Rieker and Gabor in Slovakia, as well as the subsidiaries of CCC Shoes & Bags in Poland.
On the same day, June 20, the ”sister network” or co-campaign for Change Your Shoes, namely Clean Clothes Campaign, published a research on European shoe brands and their human rights due diligence performance. In Trampling Workers’ Rights Underfoot, the network has assessed 23 companies with ”an influential presence on high streets across Europe”. Some – but not all – of these companies are the same that were under scrutiny in the Labor on the Shoestring study. Perhaps it is not a surprise that these companies were not among the winners of the game.
But what frustrates the most is the silence: half of the companies that were contacted for the research and asked to reply did not do so. They either did not reply at all or replied something but did not fulfil the questionnaire. Among the silent ones are brands such as Ara, Bally, Camper, Ecco and Ferragamo. We can only speculate the reasoning behind their lack of transparency. However, arrogance and neglect can prove to be an expensive communication approach.