“With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give you a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One.”[i]
This is the phrase that appears on the top of the screen of TOMS website. They make it widely known that the company’s mission is giving shoes to needy children in underdeveloped countries. They don’t sell shoes to make a profit, they sell shoes to donate shoes. No one can argue that the work that TOMS shoes does is not meaningful. They raise awareness that children and adults in underdeveloped countries walk around barefoot everyday, exposed to diseases that originate in the ground. Everyone has the right to be free from infection and disease, and TOMS takes it upon itself to make sure that this happens. Without being asked to, TOMS makes it their duty to make sure that these individuals will have shoes to protect themselves from future infection and diseases, thus promoting a cause that has spread on an international level.
It all started in 2006 when Blake Mycoskie traveled to Argentina and saw that the majority of children were barefoot, walking around on rough terrain with nothing to protect their feet. Many of these children had cuts and infections on the bottoms of their feet that showed no signs of healing. This simple observation gave him the inspiration to create TOMS Shoes with the goal to provide a pair of shoes to these children in need.
An active entrepreneur starting five businesses before he created TOMS, Mycoskie recognized that there was an opportunity to enter both the Argentine and US markets with the Alpargata styled shoe, a slip on style with no laces that is both practical and comfortable. Partnering with charities, NGOs and numerous other non-profit organizations, Mycoskie created the company TOMS, a shortened abbreviate for “Shoes for a Better Tomorrow.”[ii] The philosophy behind the company is that TOMS sells shoes to donate shoes. Because of their One-for-One business model, when Alex, age 10 from a rural village in Zambia, received his first pair of donated shoes, he was given a lifetime of protected feet, with TOMS promising to continue to donate new shoes as he outgrew his old ones. For years to come, Alex will be free from the sores and insect infections that he previously received as a result of farming barefoot.[iii]
It is because of stories like this that Mycoskie decided against creating a charity that would support his cause. He wanted his organization to take a more active role, which is why he created TOMS using the One-for-One business model. Even so, why is donating shoes important? He identified four main reasons for why there would be value in a company like this. First, many his target families in underdeveloped countries live on less than a dollar a day and cannot afford to spend the money to purchase a pair of shoes for their children. Growing up barefoot, these children are left with no option but to walk miles either to school or to clean water sources with their feet unprotected, making them susceptible to injury, infection and disease as they cross the dangerous terrain.[iv]
This leads into the second reason of why Mycoskie created TOMS. Millions of children are at risk of infection and disease because of foot exposure, and shoes can eliminate that risk. Injuries and infections can occur because of cuts, sores or simply from walking on the soil. Among the most common soil-transmitted infections and diseases that are contracted each year are hookworm, jiggers, tetanus and podoconiosis.[v] According to a 2008 interview by Mycoskie, 300,000 people in Ethiopia are living with podoconiosis, a disease that “destroys the lymphatic system and causes people’s feet to inflame almost to the size of an elephant’s foot.”[vi] There is no quality of life for people living with this disease. The source of the disease comes from silicone in the soil that is found in Ethiopia, France and Hawaii. The only reason why more people in France and Hawaii have not contracted the disease is because they have access to shoes. TOMS is hoping to prevent the next generation of Ethiopians from contracting this disease by donating to the areas in need with the highest concentration of confirmed cases.[vii]
Shoes also hold value in that they are a gateway to education and opportunity. Education is a privilege that not all families in under developed countries have, because one of the requirements of sending a child to school is that each student must have the proper uniform, and a proper uniform includes shoes. When TOMS delivers shoes to children in need, the parents are overcome with joy at the notion that their children will now be able to go to school. Those with an education are more likely to achieve long-term success, like Setilda, age 15 from Malawi who now feels “smart and presentable with new shoes,” and follows her dream of becoming a nurse.[viii] It’s unbelievable to think that simply giving someone a pair of shoes can change the rest of their life.
These three reasons all form one main picture. Shoes lead to a better tomorrow. “Healthy, educated children have a better chance of improving the future of their entire community,”[ix] and it all starts with access to shoes.
Since the company’s inception in 2006, TOMS has donated over two million pairs of shoes in 23 different countries. Exhibit 1 In each country they donate to, TOMS employees form a personal relationship with the locals, making the interaction as intimate as possible. Every two weeks, TOMS sends approximately 15 volunteers to the countries in need to not only personally deliver the shoes, but also to educate the families on the importance of wearing the shoes once they receive them.[x]
Although TOMS makes their donation trips a personal and lasting one, some wonder if donating shoes has a real value to it. Some believe that donating shoes is not effective because they do not see a donation program as a way of making a lasting change. As opposed to giving shoes to the locals, why not create a business in the heart of the local communities that makes and sells the shoes? The local towns and communities would no longer be dependent on donations, and the creation of a local shoe company would boost the local economy, provide jobs and still give families the shoes they need at a price easily affordable to them.
In addition to questioning the value associated with shoe donation, some also question TOMS decision to outsource their labor. Even though they guarantee safe labor practices, the actual production of all TOMS shoes occurs in China, Ethiopia or Argentina. Just because the cost of labor is cheap overseas, some wonder if it is efficient making the shoes in foreign countries, shipping them to retail stores in the United State where they will then leave the United States again when they are donated abroad. Why not eliminate a step? Instead of the shoes being transported across the world and back, why not keep them in their original countries and create TOMS owned factories abroad so that the shoes can be made in the country and then delivered immediately to the local citizens.
Even though there are some criticisms about TOMS business practices, no one can question that the value of the work that they do. TOMS is a leader in what can potentially be a whole new category of multinational organizations. Without even being asked to, they go above and beyond their basic requirements to help those in need simply because they feel it is the right thing to do. They are not obligated to donate their time, money and manpower to helping those less fortunate, but they do because they feel the need to share their good fortune and give back and aid those who are at a social and economic disadvantage. While there are many charities and non-profits who dedicate their work to aiding those deprived of basic rights and freedoms, TOMS is among one of the few for-profit companies that uses a unique business model to give aid and support to needy communities.
Thomas Donaldson believes that all multinational corporations have their own rights and duties that they are to be held to. By definition, a multinational corporation is any corporation that does business in more than one country. Given that TOMS shoes currently donates shoes to 23 countries and has factories in three countries, I would define TOMS as a multinational corporation, and are such accountable under specific rights and duties as defined by Donaldson in his article Rights in the Global Market.[xi] According to Donaldson, a right is anything that is feasible. If it is not feasible, then he would not define it as a right. Since I believe that everyone should have the right to walk around without the risk of infection and disease, I think that Donaldson would agree and say that foot protection is a feasible right. Given that I have defined this as a right, Donaldson would now state that there are three duties that multinational corporations are to uphold. They are: (A) not actively depriving a person of their rights, (B) helping to protect persons from deprivation and (C) to actively aid the deprived.[xii]
The first duty, to not actively deprive an individual of their rights, is one that TOMS certainly upholds. Given the fact that TOMS was founded on the premise that they wanted to create an organization that would benefit those who are already at a disadvantage, the last thing I can envision is TOMS actively stepping in to remove any of their limited rights. They travel to lesser-developed countries bringing practical shoes that hold tremendous value as a way to share their good fortune with others who are deprived of this basic right.
The second duty that Donaldson believes multinational corporations are held to is that they have the duty to help protect persons and communities from deprivation. I understand TOMS to uphold this right by seeking out those communities in need and donating shoes to them. TOMS is constantly searching for new areas that will benefit the most from the economic, health and educational benefits that shoes can bring. If there is already a local shoe business that does an adequate job of providing its community members with shoes, TOMS will leave that community along and target other areas that lack such resources.[xiii]
At this point, Donaldson would say that multinational corporations are only responsible to uphold the first and second duties, but I would argue that TOMS upholds the third duty as well, possibly more so than the other duties listed. The third duty is to aid the deprived. Donaldson would argue that multinational corporations are not required uphold this duty, believing that multinational corporations “may be praiseworthy for aiding the deprived, but this duty is not mandatory.”[xiv] I would disagree and argue that TOMS does an exceptional job of upholding this duty, and it is their performance of this duty that separates them from other multinational corporations and makes them a leader in a new category of for-profit companies. This third duty is essentially what TOMS was founded upon, actively aiding those who are deprived of a basic right. They go above and beyond what they are required to do in order to ensure that everybody has the same basic rights and freedoms.
By adding this third duty to their business model, TOMS is, in a way, creating a novel rights based framework. One thing to investigate is are there other corporations or theories already in existence that also embody what TOMS is doing? In Moral Problems of Employing Foreign Workers, Aviva Geva presents a theory that coincides with TOMS business model, agreeing that there is a way that multinational corporations can act in a way that they aid those deprived even though they are not required to. According to her idealist view, ethics is universal, and basic moral principles should guarantee that all persons be entitled to basic rights simply because they are persons.[xv] Applying this view, all multinational corporations are obligated to Donaldson’s third right of aiding those deprived, because those persons are being deprived of a basic human right. Geva argues that this philosophy is evident in foreign employment practices, stating that foreign workers have human rights that derive from their existence as persons, and should thus be treated fairly and be entitled to the same rights and wages that non-foreign workers receive. Under the idealist view, multinational corporations are held to the duty to abide by safe labor practices, fair wages and provide job security.[xvi]
The theory presented by Geva supports TOMS’ rights based framework, but it leaves many aspects of the framework left up to interpretation. The main matter that surrounds this framework is that there needs to be guidelines that will help companied decide who exactly they will offer their aid and assistance to. Who is categorized as being deprived, and to what extent should those classified as deprived be supported? Since not many multinational corporations operate in the same way that TOMS does, the criteria I define that will help decide who to aid applies mainly to TOMS’ business practices. I think that choosing whom to target and to what extent should largely depend on the size, location and general wealth and economic status of a community. Smaller, more rural areas are less likely to have the financial and physical assets needed to adequately support themselves, and I think it is these areas that deserve the attention and support that companies like TOMS can provide. Areas that have local businesses, such as a locally run shoe business, would not be an area that would require support from TOMS. I also think that the length of time that these communities will be dependent on aid is an important factor in deciding who should receive support. As opposed to areas that receive aid and are able to flourish on their own shortly after receiving aid, the areas that should be targeted are those that come from extreme poverty that will most likely require aid for a substantial amount of time after first receiving support. Those are the areas that will benefit most from a company like TOMS because they don’t have the means to raise their economic status without external help.
The TOMS company is a unique hybrid of charity and for-profit business. Its core mission is to aid underprivileged persons by donating shoes, but it raises capital by selling shoes to paying customers. By selling shoes in retail stores with the profits going towards donating shoes, TOMS also raises awareness of the plight of the persons who will receive the free shoes. Some may take issue with the details of this model, but there is little doubt that shoeing the shoeless is a positive step and a great example of how capitalism can benefit the needy. By expanding on the basic level of a rights based framework, TOMS is forging a new path that can inspire other companies to step beyond their basic obligations and requirements in order to benefit communities and individuals in need.
Source: TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[ii] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[iii] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[iv] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[v] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[vi] The TH Interview: TOMS Shoes (Part One).” Interview by Jacob Gordon. TreeHugger. 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/treehugger-radio/the-th-interview-toms-shoes-part-one.html>.
[vii] The TH Interview: TOMS Shoes (Part One).” Interview by Jacob Gordon. TreeHugger. 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/treehugger-radio/the-th-interview-toms-shoes-part-one.html>.
[viii] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[ix] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[x] The TH Interview: TOMS Shoes (Part One).” Interview by Jacob Gordon. TreeHugger. 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.
[xi] Donaldson, Thomas J. “Rights in the Global Market.” Multinational Corporate Responsibility. 139-159. Print.
[xii] Donaldson, Thomas J. “Rights in the Global Market.” Multinational Corporate Responsibility. 139-159. Print.
[xiii] TOMS Giving Report. Rep. Web. <http://www.toms.com/media/files/8.24.11_GivingReport_Update.pdf>
[xiv] Geva, Aviva. “Moral Problems of Employing Foreign Workers.” Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 390
[xv] Geva, Aviva. “Moral Problems of Employing Foreign Workers.” Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 381-403
[xvi] Geva, Aviva. “Moral Problems of Employing Foreign Workers.” Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 381-403