An ethical fashion report shining a light on footwear companies said major Kiwi brands are lacking transparency about how they are protecting their workers and the environment.
The research report, Footwear: An Industry Laced with Exploitation, was produced by Tearfund and Baptist World Aid and assessed 25 companies representing over 90 footwear brands from across the world.
"Over the past decade, the apparel industry has come under the microscope. Scrutiny from conscious shoppers and non-profits like Tearfund has exposed its dark underbelly of poverty and exploitation," said Morgan Theakston, Tearfund's advocacy specialist and the author of the report.
"But when it comes to our shoes, there is far less research, little public pressure on companies and a severe lack of transparency."
Among the brands researched were six New Zealand companies - Hannahs, Number 1 Shoes, Mi Piaci, Merchant 1948, Deuce and Allbirds.
Ngahuia Group, the owners of Hannahs and Number 1 Shoes, chose not to participate in the research which meant the brands were assessed solely on information which is publicly available.
"This does not necessarily mean they have modern slavery in their supply chains, it just means they don't know if they do. In 2022 that's not okay," said Theakston.
They were given a rating of 0/100 as research could not find any information on whether the company knew the names and addresses of all their factories, whether their products were made from sustainable fibres, whether they paid their workers a living wage and whether or not they had a climate commitment plan in line with the current United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.
Ngahuia Group CEO Lesley Francis-Ziogas said the company chose not to participate in the research to instead focus on the wellbeing of staff and customers and business operations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Participating in such reports takes significant time and resource for our internal team, and that of our supply partners."
Francis-Ziogas said sustainability was incredibly important to the business, and that they had made strides in the areas of packaging, recycling and volume reduction. She also said they keep close communication with suppliers to ensure modern slavery is not being used.
"Whilst we have not shared our progress to date, we appreciate our customers want
to hear more from us about our sustainability statement and supply chain practices, so we will be making this a priority to communicate going forward."
Meanwhile, Overland Footwear group, owners of Mi Piaci, Merchant 1948 and Deuce, scored 12.82/100.
The research concluded that the company is able to trace between 26 and 50 per cent of their factories and where they are located and that up to 25 per cent of their final product is made from sustainable fibres.
No information was given about workers receiving the living wage and if the company had a climate commitment plan.
Overland Footwear Group owner Louise Anselmi said the findings of the report will influence the next steps they take towards being more sustainable which includes obtaining social accreditation for their New Zealand-owned factory in China which produces 62 per cent of their products.
"We have committed to providing more visibility and will have an update on our website available in the coming months.
"Our focus now is to continue to reduce our impact on the environment and move the needle on all aspects of our supply chain."
Anselmi also noted that a full list of their factory locations was provided in their submission and will be included in an update on their website soon.
Allbirds, which claims to produce planet-friendly shoes, scored the highest out of all six Kiwi brands but still ranked low overall.
The brand also chose not to participate and was given a score of 26.72/100 based on publicly available information.
"Its low score is due to the company's lack of transparency around its factories, wages, and working conditions," said Theakston.
On a positive note, the research did find that they knew the names and locations of all their factories, 51 to 75 per cent of their final product is made with sustainable fibres and they do have a UN complying climate commitment plan.
Allbirds has been approached for comment.
"There's no sugar-coating it; this year's scores for Kiwi shoe companies are low," said Theakston.
Within the research, companies were graded against 46 questions under five categories; policies and governance, tracing and risk, supplier relationships and human rights monitoring, work empowerment and environmental sustainability.
Out of all the brands assessed, the average score was 22.62/100.
Adidas ranked the highest with a score of 58.3/100 while Nine West, Novo Shoes and Windsor Smith scored 0/100 alongside Ngahuia Group.
Concerningly, only 10 companies could publicly or directly say where their factories were, a quarter did not know where their leather tanneries or fabric mills were and 56 per cent didn't know where their raw materials such as cotton and animal hides came from.
Furthermore, no company could show that they paid a living wage and only 20 per cent have published an emissions target and decarbonisation strategy in line with the current UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.
"With such low scores, it seems shoe companies have barely begun adopting the best practices that we've come to expect in the apparel industry, but from our conversations with them, it's clear that many are interested, capable and willing to take action," said Theakston.
"We hope this research becomes a catalyst for meaningful change in the New Zealand footwear industry."