This week, I decided to write about UGG Australia. I can bet that everyone in the class either owns a pair of UGGs or has seen a pair on Bucknell’s campus. I am a HUGE fan of UGGs because they keep my feet warm and are extremely comfortable. Mind you, this compliment is coming from a person who has had Achilles tendon surgery and multiple stress fractures from running (hence why ¼ of my shoe closet is devoted to UGGs).

The company was born in Byron Bay, Australia. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Australian surfers would surf at Byron Bay for days a time and struggled to find ways to keep their feet warm and dry in between their surf sessions. Surfers eventually turned to hand-made basic sheepskin “footies” for natural warmth, comfort and as a way to wick away moisture. This discovery led to the foundation of the UGG brand and its worldwide phenomenon.

The company prides and defines itself on the quality of its Twinface sheepskin, which is illustrated in its mission statement: UGG® Australia delivers on its promise of luxury and comfort. UGG claims that no other material (other than its Twinface sheepskin) can “naturally keep your feet cool and warm at the same time” (UGG Australia). As a company that relies on animal skin, UGG Australia has been subject to criticisms, most notably by the animal liberation movement. However, UGG Australia has never made a formal response to its critics. Why? I would probably guess because of the company’s continued economic success throughout the last decade. Not to mention, if UGG Australia did try to please animal activists and use different materials in producing its boots, their quality would significantly decrease.  

While UGG Australia certainly has not prided itself on being socially responsible, it has partnered with Deckers Outdoor Corporation (its brand owner) in creating an ethical supply chain. In its supplier code of conduct, Deckers elaborates on the following points:

  • No forced labor (no prison labor, indentured, labor, bonded labor or otherwise)
  • No Child labor (will not employ workers below the age of 16 or in hazardous work, 18)
  • Wages and Benefits (employees wages’ wages & benefits must meet applicable laws for all regular hours worked)
  • Maximum number of working hours per week will not exceed 60
  • No discrimination
  • No harassment
  • No abuse
  • Employees have the freedom to association and collective bargaining
  • Safe and healthy workplace conditions
  • Strive to improve environmental performance and towards clean production
  • Assessment and monitoring (will conduct ongoing assessments and reviews for each of its facilities)
One interesting thing to note is that the Code of Conduct was on Deckers’ website rather than on UGG Australia (UGG Australia was kind enough to provide a link). In general, it was very difficult to navigate around their website and finding relevant information, such as the mission statement or where their factories are located (it seems like the majority of the apparel is still produced in Australia). The company seems to be more focused on 2012 Spring and Summer collections instead. 

Sorry for the rant. In regards to the auditing procedures, a China-based Deckers representative conducts audits on all facilities and factory records on a regular basis (Deckers). All facilities must receive a score of 70 or higher on the Ethical Supply Chain scorecard to pass the audit; otherwise, “immediate correlative action” will be taken. There is also a “zero tolerance” policy on child and forced labor. I was surprised that discrimination, harassment, and abuse did not qualify for their “zero tolerance” policies.

It seems like UGG Australia is satisfying the necessary labor, health, and environment requirements, but do not expect the company to go out of its way to become an innovator in social responsibility anytime in the near future. 

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3 responses »

  1. scoutberger says:

    I am also an avid Ugg fan. While they may not be the most attractive boot, they certainly serve their purpose to keep your feet warm and dry. I have been wearing uggs since I was a child and would go skiing with my parents. Even after Uggs became a fad I still loved their boots.

    While I believe it is important to be socially responsible, I can’t say I disagree with Uggs business tactics. Part of the appeal of Ugg boots is the fact that they are so warm and comfortable. This is only possible because of the type of sheepskin that is used. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, but I have never been an activist in any way. If Ugg were to shift from using sheepskin, I have no doubt that numbers would decline rapidly. Ugg Australia is one of those companies that can pride itself on its product. They make a damn good boot. I strongly believe that customers would notice the difference and be extremely opposed to a change in the material.

    I think Milton would agree with what I am stating. Ugg Australia is keeping within the law and is also doing their best to drive profits. Furthermore, the customers are extremely happy. There is no way to keep everyone happy…that is impossible.

    This example was harder for me to take a solid standpoint. I will always lean toward the side of being more socially responsible; however, I think this has its boundaries. I see no reason why Ugg should comply to animal activists. It would diminish their product and drive their business into the ground. When I think of irresponsible companies I think of WalMart and Nike in the early 1990’s. I would never categorize Ugg Australia with these other two. While maybe not achieving the highest standards of morality, the company still complies with the law and follow an admirable Code of Conduct

  2. Cheryl says:

    I’m a fan of UGG boots as well, and I have to agree that the biggest appeal of their boots is not their designs, but the animal skin that makes the boots and sets UGG apart from other competitors. Without it, their sales would decrease drastically for sure. Though social responsibility is crucial in business, I believe it is not the only factor to measure and assess a company’s ethics. The issue of animal liberation is still a controversial topic in which there are lots of pros and cons. People can say they are not the best example of socially responsible corporation, but it is hardly plausible to say UGG is unethical because they are not animal activist. After all, business cannot exist without demand. They are always selling well, which means consumers have no problem with it even though they are all aware that the boots are made of animal skin.
    Compared to a lot of companies out there which go as far as disobeying the law for the sake of profits, UGG has been pretty much responsible in their own way. With such a proper code of conduct involving labor, employee and safety, UGG has been exercising conducts that are enough to be considered an ethical and responsible company. I definitely agree with Scout in saying that Milton would have no problem with the way UGG is conducting its business. After all, he did emphasize that the only and only social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, as long as it does not do anything against the law.

  3. michelle says:

    Obviously animal is required for these boots. Now you look at how the animals are to come to be shoes. Are they raised nicely, killed nicely, use in full and not wasted? Next you look at the integrity of the business. We can all tell UGG isnt a fair trade business, but what are they sacrificing for bigger profit margins? Is it quality, labor conditions, ..? Outsourcing jobs- taking jobs away from a business developed in your country with your materials. TO CHINA. Obviously there sweatshops. this next line was taken from another post.. “There is also a “zero tolerance” policy on child and forced labor. I was surprised that discrimination, harassment, and abuse did not qualify for their “zero tolerance” policies.”. EXACTLY. why wouldnt a company with no integrity, inner code of ethics or moral move production to a thirdworld country where they are sure no checks will be done by labor departments. The checks that are done..the people in these sweatshops have to lie to the people that ask them questions

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