I’ve got mixed feelings about the fact that TOMS, the seller of fashionista-approved canvas shoes that distributes a pair to a needy child every time someone ponies up for a pair for themselves, is partnering up with uber-conservative social issues group Focus on the Family to get their shoes to folks who need them in Africa. As Irin Carmon notes, ” Focus On The Family isn’t the only group TOMS could have turned to for collaboration, nor is it the only Christian group involved in charitable missions. It carries significant cultural and political baggage, for good reason.” And I would like to know how TOMS made the decision to partner with Focus on the Family, as opposed to other aid groups working in Africa that might have more effective distribution networks, and whether either partner in the deal’s imposed preconditions on the other.
But as long as Focus on the Family hasn’t made it part and parcel of the deal that they get to slip abstinence or anti-gay pamphlets in the shoes, or required TOMS to donate to abstinence-only education, or to do anything that has a negative effect on people’s health and safety and as long as the shoes get to people who need them rather than being diverted, I have a hard time getting incredibly upset about this. You don’t need to pass an ideological test to want to make life more livable for the world’s poorest people. If TOMS shoes make it easier for more African kids to walk to school, or for folks to get to health clinics, or make it easier for them to carry clean drinking water, that’s a good thing. This collaboration may not be good for TOMS brand in the long run, and I think it’s worth watching closely, but if it works out, it could help a lot of people.