This suggests that the company uses exoticism and a romanticism of Africa as a marketing strategy, even while not fully recompensing the tribe for their inspiration for the product. The name of the shoe implies a connection, even though none exists. This seems blatantly unfair to the Masai as creators.
Dwumfour says that the Swiss company does support charities that contribute to the tribes well-being, but giving charity to an impoverished tribe is not the same thing as treating the tribe members like full business partners, with a continuing relationship with the company. Charity can always be withdrawn, versus having a direct interest in the business, with mandatory royalties. The Masai cannot bring suit against the company for copyright infringement, thus they are fair game to be exploited by marketers from Europe.
However, interviews with Masai tribesmen suggest that tribe members are not particularly upset by this relationship. Some said they were flattered by the recognition given to the people. “Im glad that the manufacturers are acknowledging the Masai as the basis for the technology. I dont really feel exploited but I think the manufacturers part of their Corporate Social Responsibility should find a way to involve Masai communities somehow – though I do know that this is easier said than done,” said one Masai in an interview. It is possible that tribe members are rationalize that they could not actually manufacture the shoes themselves. Receiving recognition and support from the company, and increasing awareness about the tribe is the best they can hope from the popularity of the shoe that bears their name. Charity is often difficult to solicit for African tribes, and people who wear the shoes and feel a sense of personal connection and responsibility for the shoe may be more apt to contribute to charity efforts.
If the shoes continue to gain in popularity, and the company does continue to support the tribe, regardless of the justice of the use of the Masai name, the tribe may benefit from the relationship, at least more than they would if the shoe had never been produced. From a utilitarian point-of-view, the actions of the company may be deemed ethical, but from a point-of-view of cultural justice the principle of capitalizing upon the name, design, and popularity of the shoe without giving the Masai equal credit as business partners does not seem fair. The fact that other companies are using the shoe design with slight modifications and not even giving back to the tribe makes the actions of the original Swiss company even more ethically questionable. Once a style from a traditional African nation has been incorporated — without its permission — into the Western marketplace, the tribe loses ownership over the development of the product, culturally and economically. This is the story of the Masai shoe, and while Swiss Masai claims to respect the tribe, their actions do not bear witness to this assertion. Cultural exploitation? If the shoe fits –.