Seeking a better down for the outdoor industry

Both Patagonia and The North Face found their environmental integrity challenged in late 2010 when the European animal rights group Four Paws revealed that the companies were using down from force-fed geese bred for foie gras. SNEWS get an update on ethical down practices at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:





Both Patagonia and The North Face found their environmental integrity challenged in late 2010 when the European animal rights group Four Paws revealed that the companies were using down from force-fed geese bred for foie gras.

The discovery — which went against both company’s ethical positions to use only down harvested from geese that are neither live plucked or force-fed for foie gras — pushed both Patagonia and The North Face to more intensely scrutinize its supply chain and bolster safeguards to assure that all down is ethically sourced.

Patagonia has more than 70 down vests and jackets, requiring the feathers from millions of geese.

The Four Paws group asked that Patagonia nix its down products.

“One thing we did not want to do at Patagonia is walk away from down products,” said Steve Richardson, the director of material development at Patagonia who traveled to Europe throughout 2011 to safeguard the company’s down supply chain. “What would happen to the animals then? We need to make sure animal cruelty is not a part of anything we do.”

Richardson on Aug. 3 was part of a Textile Exchange seminar at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market that explored industry certification for sustainable materials. The Outdoor Industry Association and Textile Exchange Task Force have created a Materials Traceability Work Group that now has 111 members, including 36 brands, 13 suppliers and 10 industry associations that are working to ensure ethically sourced textiles like wool and down. The outdoor industry has had success establishing similar programs for cotton and now is targeting wool and down.



The North Face also delved deeper into its European down supply and found instances of force feeding, which is done to fatten geese livers for foie gras.

“There are always parts of your supply chain that are established and in place for many, many years and until someone shines a light on it you maybe don’t dig as deep as you wanted to,” said The North Face’s vice president of operations, Joe Vernachio. “We take this personally and we don’t hide behind the fact that we don’t directly control every aspect of our supply chain.”

In the last two years, Vernachio said The North Face has made a lot of progress on securing its down sourcing and installed an auditing process to “make sure what we said we put in place was honestly and truly in place.”

In 2009, Great Britain’s Mountain Equipment launched its Down Codex program, which allows consumers access to supply chain auditing reports via batch codes included on each of the company’s sleeping bags. The program goes beyond eliminating live plucking and force feeding. The audit reports reveal living conditions, access to water, mobility, food quality, slaughterhouse policy and down cleaning techniques along each stage of a goose’s life. Still, Codex is not a 100 percent guarantee that every goose lives the good life. It’s an open window that shows how close the goose got to the good life.

“We can give consumers the highest level of assurance that our practices are what we expect,” said Mountain Equipment Product Manager Richard Talbot. “We are very confident the quality of our products exceeds our marketing claims.”

--Jason Blevins

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