To Assure Sound Animal Welfare, Patagonia Down Products Use Only 100% Traceable Down

Beginning in fall 2014, Patagonia down products will contain only 100% Traceable Down. This means all of the down in all of our products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed, never live-plucked. The Traceable Down Standard provides the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry. We began working in 2007 to achieve this, and we are the only brand to have done so.

Wanting to help improve animal welfare throughout the down industry, we’ve been sharing our work with down suppliers and other brands that also use down. Since 2013, when we introduced our first 100% Traceable Down products, we have presented our findings at conferences at the Outdoor Industry Association, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, and ISPO. We’ve also worked closely with Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization, whose campaign against the mistreatment of down-bearing birds first led us to examine our down supply chain. Four Paws has been quite supportive of our efforts to ensure animal welfare in our down supply chain. We continue to collaborate with them and other stakeholders to improve animal welfare industry-wide.

We’re often asked how we can ensure every bird is treated humanely. This can only be achieved by examining every single link in the down supply chain.

We start by auditing the parent farms, where birds are raised to produce eggs. This is where the highest risk for live-plucking occurs, as animals live here up to four years. Even though we don’t get our down from these birds, we feel obliged to look out for their welfare as they are an essential part of the down supply chain. This is what sets us apart from other brands also concerned about animal welfare.

The eggs produced at parent farms are transferred to other farms, where hatchlings are raised for their meat. We audit these farms to ensure sound animal welfare practices. Down is a byproduct of the meat industry, and the down we buy comes exclusively from slaughterhouses. After the down is collected from geese that have been killed for food, we follow it through washing, sorting and processing facilities to ensure proper traceability and segregation from untraceable down. We continue our audits all the way to the garment factory, where we make sure our down is kept apart from that of other brands, and used only in our clothing. It’s a lot of work. But this is how we ensure every bird whose down we use has been treated humanely.

From the moment we started this journey, we knew we needed an independent third-party to help us understand and verify sound animal welfare practices in our down supply chain. To that end, we partner with traceability experts at Arche Advisors.

Fall 2014 will mark a proud milestone for us. The assurance of sound animal welfare inherent in our 100% Traceable Down is the result of thousands of hours of work from our executives, designers, material planners, sourcing department, suppliers and corporate social responsibility team. It was neither cheap, nor easy, and we had to change our strategy and business operations to accomplish this. But building a product that helps you stay warm with a good conscience is a legacy we are proud of.

As we move forward with our efforts to ensure animal welfare, we will partner with NSF International – a nonprofit standards and certification organization – to continue to evaluate our down supply chain and to gain certification for 100% Traceable Down. We will also continue working with others in the down industry to move toward a single certification standard. In the short term, this includes working with the OIA Down Task Force to evaluate existing standards and with the Textile Exchange steering committee to help improve its responsible down standard.

Timeline of Our Efforts
We re-introduce down garments into the Patagonia line, but do not examine where our goose down comes from or how it’s produced.

During an environmental impact assessment of the materials we use, we look at down. We find the global poultry industry (not limited to geese) has a record of inhumane treatment of birds, which are raised for their meat. This includes such things as caging, de-beaking, force-feeding and on the environmental side, polluting air and water. We ask our down supplier a lot of questions to which they provide detailed answers. But wanting to confirm what they tell us, we send our strategic environmental materials developer to Hungary to visit a goose farm. He asks about living conditions for the geese, what kinds of chemicals the farm uses, and how the geese are slaughtered for their meat. Our down supplier assures us our down does not come from geese that are force-fed, which we later find out is untrue. We learn that some of our down is taken from geese after they’ve been killed for their meat, and some is taken from live geese during their molting period. We consult an agricultural professor who says that removing down and feathers from live birds when they’re molting is not painful to the geese. Armed with this information, we attempt to explain the impacts of making a Patagonia Down Sweater on our Footprint Chronicles website.

Aware of the fact that geese do suffer when their down is live-plucked, we require our supplier to certify that all down for Patagonia products comes from slaughterhouses and not contain any live-plucked down. We’re told that force-fed geese produce an oily, second-quality down that is not being supplied to us, so force-feeding is less of a concern.

In December, Four Paws (a German animal-rights group) accuses us of using live-plucked down; a charge we refute. During the controversy, however, we learn from a Four Paws investigation that gray geese from Hungary, where we get our down, are routinely force-fed to produce foie gras. Force-feeding is now banned in many European countries but is still legal in France and Hungary.

Wanting to get the facts firsthand, we send our director of social and environmental responsibility, our director of materials development, and our strategic environmental materials developer to Hungary to investigate. They make two trips, one in February and one in August, accompanied by principals from our down supplier. The group visits representative links from the entire white and gray goose down supply chains – from parent farms (where the eggs come from) to breeding farms, slaughterhouses to down processors.

Our suppliers are forthcoming, but what we learn does not sit well with us. Four Paws is correct: We are unwittingly using down from force-fed geese raised for foie gras and meat. We don’t see any evidence of live-plucked down in the parts of the supply chain we visit. And we verify that the slaughterhouses we inspect take steps to ensure they do not buy live-plucked birds and that they contract with the goose farms to specify that there is no live-plucking. This is bolstered by occasional audits of those farms.

Existing chain of custody documentation provides good traceability of down from the farm level to the slaughterhouse thanks to Hungarian food industry laws. The chain of custody, however, is not as robust from slaughterhouse to down processors. We begin implementing a plan to improve document linkage and the labeling and separation of our down at all levels of the supply chain, including the garment factories, to ensure that we get no live-plucked material.

We also begin looking at other down supply chains where live-plucking and force-feeding of geese is illegal. Our materials team visits Poland to investigate potential new down sources, and we approve one source (that has limited capacity) for use in a range of styles.

We commission an independent chain of custody audit of our new white goose down supply chain in Poland, hiring a traceability expert who begins a three-month-long investigation joined by the International Down and Feather League. Our goal is to score down traceability management systems and assess animal welfare. The two are intrinsically linked and equally important to assuring product-content claims.

During the three-month period, auditors assess more than a dozen sites over seven field days, including a down garment factory in China, a down processor in the U.S., and various international down processors, slaughterhouses and farms - including a parent goose farm (where eggs are produced) and a hatchery. The auditors evaluate animal-welfare practices against the August 2012 version of the Patagonia down standard, as well as European Union and individual countries’ laws pertaining to animal welfare. To measure robustness of traceability of the supply chain, our expert looks at the hallmarks of good traceability: documentation trails, physical labeling and segregation of down, and management systems. She then verifies the system’s robustness through the tried-and-true supply chain auditing methodology of document review, observation and worker interviews.

We receive reports at each stage of the assessment in each country. They include assessment summaries, analysis of gaps in tracing systems, good practices and a final score for animal welfare and overall traceability management systems. We also receive a final summary report linking all site visits and one final quantitative score for traceability management systems and animal welfare/live-plucking/force-feeding.

To our knowledge, no other company has gone to such lengths to assure chain of custody.

We receive results from the audit in January that show “no evidence of live-plucking or force-feeding practices” in our white goose down supply chain. Furthermore, the audit reveals “a robust traceability document chain, adequate labeling and segregation practices with room for improvement in a few areas.” We are now pursuing remediation of all report recommendations to further improve traceability and animal welfare in our down supply chains. We are also developing a screening process for our down suppliers based on our chain of custody audit and the assessment tools that came out of it.

Patagonia has a history of affecting change in supply chains, and we are hopeful to do it with down. In this spirit, as of spring 2013, our entire collection of Ultralight Down clothing uses white down from geese that have been verified by an independent, third-party traceability expert to be non-live-plucked, non-force-fed. It is our hope to expand this offering each season as we build up a Traceable Down supply chain based on our Down Supply Chain Animal Welfare Standard.

Beginning in fall 2014, Patagonia down products will contain only 100% Traceable Down. This means all of the down in all of our products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed, never live-plucked. The Traceable Down Standard provides the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry. We began working in 2007 to achieve this, and we are the only brand to have done so.

To improve down supply chains across the board, we are participating in the formation of an Outdoor Industry Association and Textile Exchange Down Task Force, part of the Materials Traceability Working Group. The goal is to foster collaboration among brands and suppliers to establish traceability standards and methodologies for down products and supply chains. Traceability will allow brands to verify claims about the down used in their products, including whether the geese that supply it have been live-plucked or force-fed.

In the meantime, the caveats we first raised to Patagonia customers in spring 2011, and updated in December 2011, still apply. Vegans whose avoidance of animal products extends to shoe leather may want to avoid down clothing. And those who believe foie gras should not be produced or sold may also want to avoid our gray down products. We continue to offer high-quality garments insulated with synthetic materials as alternatives. Thanks for your interest. We will continue to discuss this issue as things develop.