Down smackdown: The North Face v Patagonia on ethical feather standards

For decades, The North Face and north face logo Patagonia have competed in the marketplace for outerwear, backpacks and pullovers. Now they’re engaged in a smackdown over down – specially over which agency has put forward the most powerful requirements to protect ducks and ducks, whose feathers are made into down insulation, from merciless practices on farms and in slaughterhouses.

This month, The North Face introduced that it’d begin promoting down subsequent 12 months that complies with its Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which it describes as “the broadest and most comprehensive method to animal welfare to be had inside the down deliver chain”. Patagonia says that’s sincerely no longer so, and that its own Traceable Down Standard provides “the best warranty of animal welfare in the apparel industry”.

Four Paws, an independent animal-welfare group that advocates for the moral treatment of, agrees that Patagonia’s general is superior. While The North Face fashionable is “a step inside the right path”, Patagonia has “a lower tolerance for a hard and fast of things that we assume are vital for animal welfare”, says Nina Jamal, an international farm animal campaigner for Four Paws, which is primarily based in Vienna.

The fact that those two longtime competitors are competing over company duty need to come as no marvel. Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, a celebrated rock climber, fly fisherman, environmentalist and writer, has made his organization a sustainability pioneer. And after Doug Tompkins, The North Face’s founder, left the agency many years in the past, he went on to gather considerable quantities of desolate tract for conservation in Chile and Argentina and submit a ebook assailing manufacturing facility farms. In 1968, Chouinard and Tompkins, who were then pals, took a celebrated road journey to Patagonia.

Down, because it takes place, is a excessive-performance product crafted from waste. No one increases geese or ducks for their feathers; they’re bred and raised for meat, in general in eastern Europe and China, and feathers are a byproduct. Down insulation is prized because it has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetics, which come from petroleum, and it’s far extra compressible.

The hassle is, waterfowl raised for meat are subjected to a couple of arguable practices. Their feathers are “live-plucked”, which activists say causes “bloody wounds because the animals shriek in terror”. Ducks and geese are also pressure-fed to fatten their livers to make foie gras, as manufacturers shove pipes down their throats to stuff them with extra food than they would consume on their very own.

Neither Patagonia nor The North Face buy without delay from farmers or slaughterhouses. But after coming beneath assault from Four Paws, both corporations got down to try to insure that the down that reveals its way into their garments and napping bags did no longer bring about animal cruelty. (See this 2011 blog submit for a sterling instance of self-criticism and transparency from Patagonia.) They dispatched sustainability executives – Wendy Savage of Patagonia, Adam Mott of The North Face – and providers to farms and slaughterhouses in jap Europe and China to untangle their deliver chains, which have been complex and largely opaque.

Mott, a vegetarian who believes strongly in animal welfare, advised me he determined the visits a little unsettling. “I try and separate my non-public emotions,” he said, and as a substitute awareness on what’s right from an moral attitude for The North Face. Still, he acknowledged: “It was tough to be on the farms and the slaughterhouses.”

Because there has been no existing animal-welfare widespread for waterfowl, The North Face set out to jot down its own, as did Patagonia. Both hoped to have broader have an impact on. Patagonia’s Savage told me: “Our intention is usually to steer the enterprise and different brands.” The out of doors apparel enterprise makes use of only a fraction of the world’s down, maximum of which is going into the bedding and home fixtures.

The competing standards have much in commonplace. Both purpose to supply down simplest from birds which have by no means been stay plucked or pressure fed. Both corporations enlisted respected partners to look into or certify farms: NSF International for Patagonia, Control Union for The North Face.

As North Face’s Adam Mott explains on this weblog publish, The North Face has pledged to supply a hundred% Responsible Down by 2017 and has given its wellknown to the Textile Exchange, a reputable nonprofit, inside the desire of engaging more manufacturers and down providers. For its element, Patagonia says (pdf) its down products will include simplest 100% “traceable down” starting q4 and that its fashionable additionally may be shared.

The differences among the requirements are small but sizable. Among them:

North Face’s RDS lets in a blend of licensed and un-licensed down in merchandise that may be certified, even though the enterprise says that simplest merchandise containing 100% certified down will bring a purchaser-facing label.
Patagonia’s popular reaches as much as the so-referred to as determine farms, in which birds face the best danger of stay-plucking due to the fact they stay longer. North Face’s policies do not, focusing as an alternative on breeding farms.
The North Face trendy lets in what’s known as “parallel manufacturing”, which means that farms and slaughterhouses that produce certified down also can deal with birds which have been force fed, as long as no down comes from the force-fed geese. This practice is banned by using Patagonia.
“I’m involved about the RDS wellknown,” Nina Jamal of Four Paws told me. “But I’m instructed that they are looking to deal with our concerns.”

North Face’s Adam Mott and Anne Gillespie, who is director of industry integrity for Textile Exchange, say their wellknown can be bolstered as it is revised. Rules that are too hard from the outset is probably spurned by way of industry, in particular the ones within the bedding commercial enterprise that haven’t begun to be targeted via activists.

“We in reality wanted to protect as many animals as possible, and in our view, that would be first-rate achieved by way of fast and extensive-scale adoption of the standard,” Gillespie stated. “We don’t need perfection to be the enemy of the best.”

Both businesses, meanwhile, are developing synthetic options to down. But they say that pound for pound, not anything insulates in addition to true down. It simply is going to expose that nature knows best.

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