To Assure Sound Animal Welfare, Patagonia® Down Products Use Only 100% Traceable Down
From fall 2014 forward, all Patagonia down products contain only 100% Traceable Down. This means all of the down in all of our down products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed and 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 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 food industry, and the down we buy comes exclusively from slaughterhouses. After the down is collected from geese that have been killed for their meat, 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 marked 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 in good conscience is a legacy we are proud of.
As we move forward with our efforts to ensure animal welfare, we are partnering with NSF International to continue to evaluate our down supply chain. NSF is a nonprofit standards and certification organization that is helping us to move beyond verification to gain certification for 100% Traceable Down in fall 2015. 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 Four Paws, the Outdoor Industry Association, European Outdoor Group and the German Sporting Goods Industry Association (Bundesverband der Deutschen Sportartikel-Industrie) to evaluate existing standards and with the Textile Exchange steering committee to help improve its responsible down standard.
Timeline of Our Efforts
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.
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.
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.
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, some of the caveats we first raised to Patagonia customers still apply. Vegans whose avoidance of animal products extends to shoe leather may want to avoid down clothing. 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.