Photo from Masahiro Ihara
While Chinese “animal rights activists” and their adversaries continue to argue about PETA’s arrival in Shanghai and the implications that might hold, it has come to our attention that there are more connections between China and the vegan movement at large than a few angry vegans in their skivvies. And unfortunately for our chilly brothers and sisters, the news isn’t good: shoes may be next on the list of items they’ll have to remove from their homes in order to be ethically compliant.
Oh, and their beloved veggies.
But first let’s talk about the shoes, because Shanghai’s streets are covered with nails. It seems that perennial hippie favorite Simple, whose dirt-colored moccasins and tennis shoes may be more Birkenstock than Birkenstock, are actually made right here in China. On its own, this revelation provides anecdotal proof only that the hideous footwear might is not worth wearing on environmental merits – and not just considering China’s recently quantified pollution ratings. No, it seems that Simple actually ships American materials to China – can we say “carbon footprint?” – where they take advantage of dirt-cheap labor and then ship the products back to the United States to be sold.
“When other companies took their component suppliers to the Far East in the mid-nineties,” a Simple employee told AlterNet,” it left us high and dry.”
But don’t feel too bad for the makers of “simple shoes for simple people.” Indeed, one of their much larger competitors – who sells arguably more attractive, versatile shoes at a significantly lower average price – makes their shoes right in the United States. Enter New Balance, based in Maine and Massachussets, two states Simple explicitly cited as too high-cost as far back as the early 90’s. Unfortunately for hippies of the vegan variety, however, most of NB’s shoes are made of leather. What a pity! As is often the case, China has become the beneficiary of a foreign company’s abandonment of manufacturing – and Simple appears to have failed miserably in its goal to achieve “100% sustainability” in that regard.
Speaking of unsustainable companies that target sustainability-minded environmentalists, it appears that Whole Foods, who sells “New Zealand’s finest organic apples” in all its North American stores, has also jumped on the China bandwagon: it appears that the conglomerate’s store-brand “California Mixed Vegetables” are made right here in the Middle Kingdom. And while yuppies, urbanites and tree huggers alike seem alright with the fact that their pesticide-free fruits burns as much jet fuel as ten thousand Priuses on its way to them, Whole Foods’ decision to be forthcoming about the origin of these cruelty-free goodies isn’t earning them any points in the image department. As Richard Brubaker of All Roads Lead to China concludes:
It is not to say that you cannot source organics from China, or non-lead based painted toys, but that there are clearly new considerations for firms that should be considered.
Indeed, it is the responsibility of green-leaning companies and not of China, who has never claimed to be green, vegan or otherwise environmentally-concerned, to keep patchouli-wearers at ease. And while it’s possible that a combination of red paint, emaciated nudity and outspoken truth-telling might force the pendulum in the opposite direction, we’re willing to bet that China will continue to happily take the orders of these companies. Unlike fur, manufacturing is not glamorous – it’s just business.