Photo by Davide Ragusa/Unsplash
When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused one of Patagonia’s wool suppliers last August of abusing its lambs and sheep, the outdoor-apparel firm moved swiftly to cut all ties. By all accounts this was a difficult decision. Ovis 21, the Argentinean farming collective under scrutiny, had been working with Nature Conservancy to develop holistic grazing practices that would help restore more than 15 million acres of degraded Patagonian grasslands. Meanwhile, Patagonia, together with Textile Exchange and others, was in the midst of forging a Responsible Wool Standard that would do for sheep what the Responsible Down Standard does for ducks and geese. Expressing her dismay—and acknowledging the shortfalls of what they were drafting—Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s CEO, pledged to suspend the brand’s wool purchasing until it could implement a verifiable process that not only ensured the humane treatment of animals but also promoted healthy grasslands.
It’s been nearly a year since Patagonia headed back to the drawing board. With the PETA dustup now behind it, the firm has unveiled a retooled Patagonia Wool Standard, which it believes goes “above and beyond existing wool industry animal-welfare standards.”
“We’re glad we’ve had the opportunity to regroup, because we’ve learned a tremendous amount,” Patagonia wrote on its blog. “The whole process—of consulting experts in animal welfare, engaging U.S. growers dedicated to humane treatment of animals, conducting in-depth field audits, and closely observing what it takes, in practice, to both revitalize the land and treat the animals well—reminded us very much of the days when we made the switch from conventionally grown to organic cotton. We’ve talked to the people who do the work, worked through what is actually possible, and put forth the highest possible standards in a new supply chain that involves the best possible partners.”
Among the experts Patagonia consulted with? Temple Grandin, the renowned author and animal scientist who has spent a lifetime advocating for the humane treatment of animals bred for human consumption.
“In the end, 33 individual pieces of criteria in the Patagonia Wool Standard came directly from Dr. Grandin, who also participated in a review of our near-final standard in recent months,” Patagonia said. “And many more came from or were refined during a robust stakeholder review with Four Paws, independent auditors, farms in the United States and New Zealand, and other expert organizations and individuals.”
Patagonia recognizes that wool, like down, is typically a byproduct of an animal that will ultimately be killed for its meat. There are exceptions, but animal lovers are likely to blanch at the standard industry M.O.
“Vegans, like some who work at Patagonia or like activists who work for PETA, may opt out by avoiding any human use of domesticated animals,” it said. “For the rest of us, those who produce and eat meat and wear wool, down or leather, the question is more complex. We can do everything we can to ensure that animals do not suffer before they are slaughtered, and to slaughter them compassionately.”
Besides animal-welfare provisions that build on the Responsible Wool Standard but exceeds certain baselines in the methodology for audits, the Patagonia guidelines also take into account biodiversity protection, soil management, and pesticide and fertilizer use in the communities where sheep are raised.
All sheep in the company’s supply chain, it said, will be assured a “compassionate end of life, whether through on-farm or off-farm slaughter,” “reasonable” transportation times, and humane treatment by farm workers, including during shearing, castration, and other practices.
“In the 20th century, our society adopted increasingly brutal methods of treatment for animals involved in factory farming, the penning and transportation in close, foul quarters, the wholesale administration of hormones and antibiotics, manipulation through targeted genetics that deprive animals of the ability to move or have a creaturely life,” Patagonia said. “The actions of the ranch hands we saw in PETA’s video were more hands-on, less industrially cruel, but yet deeply ingrained in the way humans deal with animals, a product of culture centuries in the making. How does that change?”
For those who haven’t disavowed the fluffy stuff, the Patagonia Wool Standard just might be a start.