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Adidas’ most popular sneakers linked to deforestation and modern slavery in Brazil

Adidas, a titan in the sportswear industry, has witnessed a remarkable resurgence, largely fueled by the skyrocketing popularity of its retro sneakers such as the Samba, Gazelle, and Spezial. Celebrated as the sneaker trend of the year on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, these shoes have not only symbolized Adidas’ triumphant comeback but have also spotlighted contentious environmental and ethical issues within global supply chains.

The critical financial rebound for Adidas came after the brand parted ways with Kanye West (now legally known as ‘Ye’), with whom it previously generated significant profits through the Yeezy collections. Despite the termination of this lucrative partnership, Adidas managed to sail through monetary challenges, thanks in part to the growing demand for its Terrace collection. This resurgence, however, has been marred by revelations concerning the environmental and ethical ramifications of the materials used in these coveted sneakers.

Investigative reports by SOMO, Stand.earth, and Follow the Money have traced a concerning path from Adidas’ leather suppliers back to Brazilian cowhide producers implicated in the deforestation of the Amazon and practices resembling modern slavery. The Amazon rainforest, vital for its biodiversity and climate regulation, faces threats from cattle ranching, a primary driver of deforestation. Disturbingly, the Amazon now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, pushing it towards a tipping point with potentially catastrophic global climate consequences.

Moreover, the leather trail has exposed instances of worker exploitation. Inspections of farms supplying JBS, the world’s largest cowhide producer, revealed conditions akin to modern slavery, with workers living in deplorable conditions and lacking access to clean water. These findings spotlight the grim reality behind some of Adidas’ supply chains, challenging the brand’s sustainability pledges to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to deforestation-free supply chains. The complexity of supply chains, further complicated by cattle laundering practices, makes it difficult to ensure that leather is sourced both ethically and sustainably.

This predicament underscores a broader challenge facing the fashion industry: reconciling consumer demand for trendy, affordable products with the imperative for environmental stewardship and ethical practices. While Adidas has recognized its role in these issues and is striving towards greater transparency and sustainability, critics argue that the brand’s current measures are inadequate to address the urgent need to halt deforestation and exploitation linked to leather production.

As the fashion industry navigates these challenges, there is a growing call from consumers for accountability and transparency. Brands like Adidas are urged not only to make ambitious commitments but also to implement tangible actions that ensure their supply chains do not contribute to environmental destruction or human rights abuses. The controversy surrounding Adidas’ popular sneakers serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities and responsibilities inherent in global supply chains, spotlighting the urgent need for systemic change within the industry.

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