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Final? update on the TOMS Shoe v. Dignity flap

Here are a few “day-after” thoughts on the Shoes vs Dignity flap — the debate about the legitimacy (or not) of Tuesday’s high-profile TOMS Shoes’ One Day Without Shoes campaign, which was challenged by a much-less resourced but highly animated and critical Day Without Dignity campaign.

Vivek Nemana, writing at AidWatch, decided to join the barefoot minions of TOMS and wander around Greenwich Village on a cold, soggy New York City Day. Says Nemana:

Sure, this whole event really just helps TOMS sell more shoes, and sure, it was cold and raining in New York, and sure, I solicited bewildered stares, watched mothers shield their daughters from me, and possibly contracted hepatitis, but wasn’t I raising awareness about the real, complex challenges facing developing countries?

No, not really, Nemana goes on to say. In fact, this publicity stunt can even dull awareness to the real issues.

Tom Murphy, writing at A View from the Cave, cites a story at the Chronicle of Philanthropy which further says that buying TOMS Shoes as a gesture aimed at helping the poor actually hurts the poor — because such consumerist compassion works to depress charitable giving overall.

Both articles cite a University of Michigan business professor, Aradhna Krishna, as saying:

” .. Cause marketing warps consumers’ minds into thinking that they’re contributing more than they actually are, since ‘people may mentally assign their cause-marketing expenditure as their charitable giving.’ “

Finally, I just saw this post (via Tom Murphy) from Kelsey Timmerman of Where Am I Wearing? The problem with TOMS Shoes, Timmerman writes, is not their attempt to raise awareness. Understanding the real problem here is by looking first at who makes the shoes (hint: China). Donating shoes is not a solution to the problem; it’s merely a temporary band-aid.

Says Timmerman:

The problem isn’t that people don’t have shoes. It’s that they don’t have the means to buy shoes.

The problem isn’t shoelessness. The problem is poverty.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.