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Nike and Allbirds Attacked Over Wool

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) plans to “call out” Allbirds for sourcing wool at the newly public company’s first annual meeting Friday.

The animal rights group bought a single share in the Bay Area brand the same day it went public in November. At the time, PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said the organization would use its status as a shareholder to “push Allbirds to cut the greenwashing by eliminating wool from its products.”

In a news release published Wednesday, PETA suggested Allbirds is “duping shoppers into believing the sheep it uses for wool live ‘the good life,’ despite being subjected to industry-standard practices such as mutilation, castration and eventual slaughter.” The group did not cite specific Allbirds suppliers, but instead said its own research had documented “cruelty” at 117 wool operators worldwide, including on “sustainable” and “regenerative” farms. Allbirds committed last year to sourcing 100 percent regenerative wool by December 2025.

“Every pair of Allbirds sneakers represents misery and death for gentle sheep, yet the company is misleading customers with bogus claims,” Reiman said in a statement. “PETA is calling on Allbirds to run from humane- and green-washing its products by taking a page out of the vegan fashion playbook.”

The arguments mirror those raised in a proposed class action complaint that a consumer filed in June last year. The suit relied heavily on the claims of a 2021 PETA blog post entitled “Allbirds Is All Wrong—Urge It to Ditch Wool NOW!” A judge dismissed the complaint in April. In her opinion, she noted the “underlying evidence on which the plaintiff relies—the PETA posting—does not describe any animal cruelty specific to [Allbirds] or its products.”

The complaint additionally attempted to argue that the company’s supplier, ZQ Merino, could not ensure sheep lived “the good life” because it did not provide “individual care” and only audited farms every three years. The judge rejected this argument as well.

Friday’s shareholder meeting will give PETA another opportunity to raise its concerns about Allbirds’ use of wool. In Wednesday’s release, the group argued the brand should cease sourcing wool and switch to sustainable vegan materials, such as the eucalyptus tree fiber it already uses.

“Allbirds jokes that shearing is just a ‘haircut,’” PETA’s prepared question states. “Do haircuts leave customers with injuries and gaping wounds? PETA entities have released undercover investigative videos from over 100 wool operations around the world—including self-proclaimed “responsible” farms—showing that workers routinely punch and kick terrified sheep, strike them in the face with their electric clippers, stomp on their heads and necks, and shear them so violently that they end up bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth, with portions of their skin shredded like ribbons. On a so-called ‘sustainable’ and ‘regenerative’ farm, workers tried to kill fully conscious sheep by hacking at their necks with a dull blade. Does that sound like the good life?”

PETA plans to also suggest that using wool contradicts Allbirds’ sustainability ambitions. Its prepared remarks label the wool industry “a major contributor to the climate catastrophe.”

Allbirds has built its brand on its eco ethos, even initially referring to its IPO as a “Sustainable Public Equity Offering.” A 20-person panel which included two Allbirds employees created the precise criteria for what exactly an SPO would mean. Though the B Corp eventually dropped all references to the term “Sustainable Public Equity Offering,” the final IPO kept all the original criterion substantively the same.

Four Paws asks Nike to go mulesing-free

A campaign to pressure Nike to switch to certified mulesing-free wool has received more than 50,000 signatures, the global animal welfare organization Four Paws reported Wednesday.

Four Paws characterizes mulesing—a procedure that removes strips of skin around a lamb’s breech and tail to prevent the parasitic infection flystrike—as “brutal” and “mutilation.” It advocates producers instead switch to sheep breeds that are less susceptible to flystrike.

The group’s Nike campaign largely centers around encouraging the public to email Nike asking it to commit to using certified mulesing-free wool. So far, around 57,000 emails have been sent. The group also recently organized an action at Nike’s campus in Laakdal, Belgium, where activists projected their demands onto the facility’s façade.

Nike’s 2022 Chemistry Playbook & Restricted Substance List states that the company supports the use of wool fiber that is sourced and certified from non-mulesed sheep “and will consolidate its wool sourcing accordingly, as rapidly as supplies and pricing allow.” Four Paws, however, claims lab testing, traceability tools and policy analysis data indicate the company has not taken “serious action” to exclude mulesing from its merino wool supply chain. Nike’s 2021 Impact Report does not mention wool.

PETA reported in 2008 that, after nearly four months of discussions, it had convinced Adidas to boycott wool from mulesed lambs. In May last year, Puma agreed to phase out mulesing wool by 2025.

“Nike is recognized around the world for being a leader in sportswear, but unfortunately, not in animal welfare,” Rebecca Picallo Gil, head of the wool campaign at Four Paws, said in a statement. “While many brands have already made public commitments to exclude the cruel and outdated method from their supply chain by switching to only certified mulesing-free wool, Nike still fails to act and do the right thing.”

In September, more than 30 global fashion companies—including Adidas, Patagonia and H&M—delivered an open letter to Australian Wool Innovation demanding a roadmap eliminating mulesing from wool production. Though AWI’s Wool 2030 Strategy aims, among other goals, to help its members keep their flocks healthy without engaging in mulesing, Four Paws said it believed the group lacked an action plan to meet the milestone. AWI previously pledged to phase out mulesing by 2010. According to Four Paws, 80 percent of fine merino wool for the global apparel market is produced in Australia.

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