The most ethical shoe store in the world

| 1st September 2005
The Blackspot Anticorporation was set up by media activists Adbusters to provide a shoe for consumers seeking an alternative to corporate brands like Nike. Blackspot’s latest design, the Unswoosher, has just been launched in the UK.

The Unswoosher is made from 100 per cent organic hemp. The sole is made from recovered car tyres. The shoe’s white anti-logo and red splotches are handpainted, and the soles are stitched, glued and embedded for extra durability. The Unswoosher complies with vegan standards, and is being monitored by Robin Webb of the British company Vegetarian Shoes.

The Blackspot factory is located in Felgueiras in rural Portugal. The region has a 400-year shoe-making tradition. The factory has been owned and operated by the same family for three generations. Its owners have a reputation for being excellent employers.

The factory’s machinery is new, and working conditions are of a high standard: air quality is good; the premises are spacious and well lit; sound-level compliance is strictly enforced, and music is audible wherever you go. It is, the plant’s union rep says, a model factory with a near-perfect safety record. Employees work from 8am to 6pm and get one and a half hours off for lunch. A doctor visits the factory twice a week, and workers are entitled to unlimited free consultations.

The Blackspot Anticorporation is a for-profit venture, which enables Blackspot to pursue its campaigning agenda. As it says on its website: ‘For round one, we’ll launch our TV campaign, and if any network refuses to sell us airtime we’ll haul them into court.

Then, if this recycled-tyre, organic-hemp Unswoosher really takes off as a new kind of cool in the sneaker industry, we’ll use every penny of profi t on kick-ass social campaigns and anti-corporate marketing. The best part is that it’ll be up to the shareholders of the Blackspot Anticorporation to brainstorm and decide on how we do it. Do we go after McDonald’s? Do we target ExxonMobil with full-page ads in The New York Times? Or maybe we launch an anti-trust lawsuit against [media conglomerate] Viacom, or we put our money into Blackspot start-ups in other industries…’

The minimum wage in Portugal is 365 euros per month. Workers in Blackspot’s factory earn between 420 and 700 euros per month, depending on their job. In addition to their basic salary, workers receive 25 paid days off and two extra months of pay per year.

Union dues are 1 per cent of members’ salaries, and about 40 per cent of workers are union-registered. Not everyone chooses to belong to the union, as many employees don’t see any need for it. The union gets involved in wage negotiations when necessary, and provides workers with legal representation when required, but is mostly there to provide protection against unfair dismissal. According to the workers we spoke with in private, no one has ever been unfairly dismissed from this factory.

The workers told representatives of Blackspot that the factory is one of the best in Portugal. They also said that the only factories in Portugal that are totally unionised are those under foreign ownership, whose workers feel more vulnerable than those working for local or community-based employers.

We met with employees who belong to the union; we met with workers who liaise between employees and the union; we met with union staff and staff of the government-run umbrella organisation that administers the union. All meetings were in private. All the people we interviewed were unequivocal in their praise of the factory.

Blackspot aims to create a viable alternative to multinational brands. Its CEO, Kalle Lasn (who is also the editor of Adbusters magazine), says: ‘Together, we’ll revolutionise footwear, and then move on to ‘Blackspot’ other industries – big music, fast food, coffee shops, clothing. Marrying a passion for social activism with grassroots antipreneurial zeal, we’ll rearrange the ugly face of corporate capitalism.’

Blackspot shoes are sold only in independently owned retail stores. To find your nearest retailer, go to

This article is an edited version of text already circulated by Adbusters

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2005


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