About the Cruelty Free Down Challenge
Many outdoor brands use down feathers from geese or ducks in their products. This down is sourced from birds that are kept for meat production and are seen as a valuable by-product by farmers. While most of the outdoor brands state that they do not accept down from live-plucked or force-fed animals – evidence to back these claims is often missing.
Tracing down to its origins is not a simple task. It is clear that even brands who request down that comes from a higher welfare source often do not know the origin and life cycle of the down they receive. This is mainly due to a lack of transparency and the number of different processing stages. Many brands cannot fully trace the down in their jackets or sleeping bags back to the actual farms where the geese or ducks were born or raised. So how can they then guarantee to consumers that their down supply chain is free of live-plucked or force-fed geese and ducks?
FOUR PAWS wants to change that and therefore asks brands to take on The Cruelty Free Down Challenge! You can keep track of which brands decided to accept the challenge and the actions they have taken as well as plans to make sure the geese and ducks they source down from have a cruelty-free life. Brands have to climb through 5 levels on the way up to the peak. When brands reach the peak it means that based on the information they have reported to FOUR PAWS, they take animal welfare seriously and can ensure to the highest possible extent that all the geese and ducks in their supply chain are not live plucked or force-fed.
About the Campaign
The primary focus for FOUR PAWS in this campaign is on solving the most serious welfare issues: live-plucking and force-feeding. Laws against live plucking and force feeding that are in force within the European Union do not restrict the import and sale of down feather or meat from live plucked and force fed birds. In the absence of animal welfare legislation to protects birds from these cruel production practices, FOUR PAWS has focused in previous years on bringing this problem to the attention of outdoor brands such as The North Face, Patagonia and Mammut. FOUR PAWS demonstrated that despite statements or certificates by suppliers, terrible animal welfare practices are indeed present in their supply chains. Through previous work FOUR PAWS already achieved positive results to improve goose farming practices in Hungary and Poland as many farms stopped live-plucking and force-feeding. The producers that allowed FOUR PAWS to inspect their farms to verify that these practices are avoided are on the FOUR PAWS Positive List of Water Fowl Producers.
With brands still choosing to use down in their products, FOUR PAWS calls on them to provide the highest possible guarantees that the cruel practices of live-plucking and force-feeding are truly avoided. This is where full supply chain traceability (parent farm to product) with strong safeguards is imperative. Annual unannounced audits are needed to ensure that claims of farms, slaughterhouses and washing facilities that participate in a cruelty free supply chain are transparent and reliable. To ensure the credibility of animal welfare claims, a large majority of the farms, if not all of them, need to be inspected annually and ideally via surprise or unannounced inspections. The keeping conditions of animals should be inspected, whether they are healthy, have outdoor space, proper flooring, food and water or not. Parallel production, where one supply chain allows for both animal friendly and cruel practices to take place simultaneously, must be avoided. On farm level parallel production cannot be accepted, as farms performing live plucking or force feeding cannot be considered cruelty free. When slaughter houses and washing facilities are involved in parallel production measures have to be taken to avoid mixing. Moreover, conditions during transport and slaughter can especially cause stress for animals and should be regulated and controlled during inspections. Only by tracing down feather from parent farms to products can it be guaranteed that down feathers come from birds that did not endure live plucking or force feeding in their life-time.
Major brands, namely Fjällräven, Patagonia, the North Face and Mountain Equipment have developed their own animal welfare traceability standards which they are offering to other brands and members of the supply chain. Both Patagonia’s Traceable Down Standard and the North Face’s Responsible Down Standards trace the full supply chain and include some of the key safeguards on animal welfare. FOUR PAWS acknowledges this as an encouraging step for the down industry and that it has driven the biggest down suppliers (washing facilities) such as Allied Feather and Down and Downlite to trace down back to the farms they get down from. In addition, the fact that these standards are offered for adoption by other members of the industry means that more brands will be taking responsibility and paying close attention to their supply chains. However, further safeguards need to be incorporated in these standards as they develop, especially when it comes to inspections at farm level and making sure a large extent of those inspections are unannounced. FOUR PAWS is part of the multi-stakeholder review committees of both standards and is actively negotiating improvements at all levels.
About FOUR PAWS
FOUR PAWS is an international animal welfare organisation with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The organisation pleads for animal welfare through sustainable campaigns and projects. The work is based on substantiated research and scientific expertise as well as intensive national and international lobbying. FOUR PAWS focuses on animals that are directly under human influence: stray dogs and stray cats, laboratory animals, farm animals, wild animals and companion animals but also bears, big cats and orangutans kept in inappropriate housing. With offices in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA, FOUR PAWS aims to help animals in need directly and quickly.