How Oliberté, the Anti-TOMS, Makes Shoes and Jobs in Africa
… “At Oliberté, we believe Africa can compete on a global scale,” he says, “but it needs a chance. It doesn’t need handouts or a hand up. It needs people to start shaking hands and companies to start making deals to work in these countries.”
… Oliberté—the name melds “liberty” with the “O” from the anthem of Dehtiar’s home country—employs workers at factories selected because they pay relatively high wages, provide employee benefits like subsidized lunches, and employ women as about half of their workforces. The company plans to open its own factory in Addis Ababa in March while maintaining production at its existing third-party plants. It distributes across North America and Europe and sells online.
…The best-known footwear brand with a humanitarian bent is TOMS Shoes, the Santa Monica, California-based company that gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair it sells. From Nicaragua to New Orleans to Niger, TOMS has distributed shoes to more than a million children through “shoe drops,” when staff and contest winners travel the globe to hand out shoes. In addition to helping prevent soil-borne diseases, the donations help recipients attend schools that in many places forbid bare feet.
“With TOMS,” Dehtiar says, “the best thing is the awareness they’ve created.” But he’s skeptical of the company’s one-for-one model because he believes the donations can pressure local shoemakers and vendors, in addition to reinforcing stereotypes about the developing world.
…“TOMS Shoes is a good marketing tool, but it’s not good aid,” agrees Saundra Schimmelpfennig, an international aid expert who blogs at Good Intentions Are Not Enough, where she aims to educate nonprofit donors about effective charity. She’s criticized TOMS for competing with local producers by handing out free goods and for being “quintessential Whites in Shining Armor.” “The idea of creating jobs that pay a fair wage and provide necessary benefits,” she says, “can have far more impact than aid.”