Paper 2 and haiku (blog 8)

The Buy-One, Give-One Model of TOMS Shoes

Toms shoes gives away shoes

To kids in need everywhere

But what happens next?

For Paper 2 I have chosen to analyze the ethical implications of TOMS Shoes’ one-for-one business model. This topic interests me because many people would assume that the philanthropic and socially responsible nature of the company means that they are behaving ethically. However, TOMS Shoes has been under some harsh criticism recently and after doing some research I came across a New York Times article called Questioning the TOMS Shoes Model for Social Enterprise which explores some of these issues.

The basic premise of the TOMS Shoes business model is that for every pair of shoes sold, the company donates another pair to a child in need. This sets TOMS apart from other philanthropic organizations because it is a for-profit company, based in business principles, that gives back without relying on donations.


As the article and other critics have pointed out, it is difficult to criticize a company which has done so much to help children in need, but many are beginning to question whether TOMS is really doing anything to solve the underlying issue of poverty. In fact, the business model that TOMS has created actually relies on the existence of poverty in order to be successful. Without poverty and children who need shoes, TOMS would not be able to sell its product and make money.

Many argue that in order for TOMS to be a truly ethical and socially responsible organization, they should make efforts to solve the issue of poverty in these developing countries. Shoes will soon be worn out or grown out of and do not provide a long term solution. I will evaluate this ethical question from a utilitarian perspective, evaluating how TOMS one-for-one business model of giving away shoes does not necessarily maximize the long term well-being of children in need.

7 thoughts on “The Buy-One, Give-One Model of TOMS Shoes

  1. I think that TOMS should focus on the underlying issue. However isn’t something better than nothing!!!! People want change, myself included, but small steps are the way to do it. How can people complain when they are not doing anything to fix the underlying issues of poverty?!?! We need to recognize ways to actually reach the underlying problem too. There isn’t a piggy bank in 3rd world countries that can just fix poverty. Poverty is a result of so many other things. Ughh just so frustrating. Yes lets do more!! But don’t criticize TOMS for not doing enough.

  2. I do agree and by the way you put it, it really does make TOMS seem like its all in it for the profit and not necessarily for tackling the real issue, but we cant let them do it all on their own. TOMS alone will never solve the issue of poverty, but at least they are doing something to make the situation a little bit better. Yes maybe they can be using the money they make more wisely instead of with shoes, but I still believe what they are doing is right compared to most companies who aren’t doing anything. I applaud TOMS for at least making an effort in trying to help and make a change.

  3. I agree with both of your comments. It’s hard because TOMS does so much more than a lot of other companies and we should appreciate the efforts they are making. I do, however, understand the concern that many critics have with how sustainable their business model is. But TOMS is making improvements in the selling of eyewear. The profits they make contribute to the employment of nurses and doctors that provide eyesight support and surgery to help people become more employable and increase their standard of living.

  4. You could also look into the effects TOMS has on local shoemakers and jobs… Do canvas suppliers lose customers because of the shoe drops? Blake Mycoskie wrote a book about starting the company, the challenges he faced, and his thought process when starting the company. Parts of it might be a good resource for your paper.

  5. It may also be interesting to survey Bucknell students about why they buy TOMS.. many students own them and I know that I bought them because they were comfortable and good looking, but the idea that someone else was benefitting from my purchase definitely made me feel better about spending the $50+. It would be interesting to see if TOMS customer base is truly based on their ethics, or if people genuinely like their products and would still buy them if the “buy one give one” campaign was gone!

  6. When I got my first pair of Toms, I didn’t know they have the one for one model. When I learned it, I felt so related with the children in those areas, I felt like I am putting efforts to help them. It makes me feel more willing to buy another pair with knowing their model after my first purchase, and if I ever need this kind of shoes, I will choose Toms. I always think their strategy of both donating and marketing are successful.

  7. I feel a little bit skeptical of the criticism that they are not “helping solve the issue of poverty”. With one in every two children, 1 BILLION people, living under $2.50 a day surely helping those in need is such a positive thing. While TOMS donating shoes might not directly prevent people from dying the company doesn’t make food, they make shoes.

    I know you admit that it is hard to criticize TOMS but I don’t think they “rely” on people in poverty, particularly since poverty has to be relative right? (I could be wrong, but I feel that people will always be in need of shoes)

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