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Illegal Kangaroo Leather Behind Soccer-Store Lawsuit

A pair of animal welfare groups are taking it upon themselves to enforce a longstanding California statute outlawing the sale of kangaroo leather.

Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Center for a Humane Economy filed a complaint earlier this summer against Soccer Wearhouse, a small specialty chain with three locations across southern California, alleging it sold Puma, Nike and Adidas soccer boots made with kangaroo leather.

The state of California first outlawed the import and sale of kangaroo parts and products made from kangaroo parts in 1971. The statute, Section 653o, remained in effect until 2007, when the state legislature temporarily suspended enforcement. This suspension lasted until January 1, 2016.

Though six years have passed since “k-leather” shoes once again became illegal in California, animal rights groups have suggested retailers are largely ignoring the law. A 2020 report funded and published by the Center for a Humane Economy, for example, claimed that 85 of 124 independent soccer retail stores in the state sold or offered for sale kangaroo leather soccer cleats.

According to the Center and AWA’s lawsuit, the two groups made “extensive efforts” to encourage enforcement of Section 653o, including writing letters to city attorneys and to California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and meeting with CDFW officials. The plaintiffs claimed that the department sent a warning letter in 2020 to soccer retailers across the state. The two nonprofits additionally reached out directly to “several” soccer retail companies to promote awareness of Section 653o’s prohibition, “some” of which voluntarily agreed to comply.

Parallel to these efforts, the two animal rights group ran an international campaign urging footwear makers like Nike to cease the use of kangaroo leather altogether. The pair’s “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes campaign” included organized protests—including one in March—as well as attempts to lobby U.S. Congress to pass a national ban.

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The Center and AWA worked with an independent investigator from late 2020 through the spring of this year to verify whether soccer retail stores were abiding by the CDFW’s 2020 letter, they said. The animal rights groups allege that during this time they visited four Soccer Wearhouse locations—one of which is currently closed—and found kangaroo leather products at each one, including cleats from Puma, Adidas and Nike. They reached out to the CDFW with this information in September 2021. The department reportedly replied in January to say the matter was currently under investigation.

The plaintiffs say they visited the three Soccer Wearhouse locations again in May and June to see if they were still selling kangaroo leather shoes. In each case, they allege they found k-leather cleats for sale, including from Puma and Adidas, and spoke with a store clerk who acknowledged that kangaroo leather was illegal in California.

The animal welfare group’s complaint ultimately brings one cause of action against Soccer Wearhouse: unfair competition. If not for the retailer’s alleged violation of Section 653o, they argued, the nonprofits would have spent their time and limited resources on their “core mission of advocating for improved animal welfare, a more humane economy, and better animal protection laws.”

“Defendant’s unlawful business practices and acts, as described in this complaint, both frustrate plaintiffs’ mission to stop the cruel killing of thousands of kangaroos for the manufacture of soccer cleats and impede plaintiffs’ activities by forcing them to spend their limited time and organizational resources on investigation, enforcement efforts, and preparing this suit,” the Center and AWA wrote.

An attorney representing Soccer Wearhouse told the Los Angeles Times the retailer was “not aware of these items being illegal in California until a few months ago,” according to an article published Sunday. The attorney further claimed that Soccer Wearhouse no longer sells the products.

Wayne Pacelle, the president of both the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action, told Sourcing Journal Monday that “the comment that the store had no idea there was a law is not a believable statement.” According to Pacelle, the nonprofits have not yet heard anything from Soccer Wearhouse, but are expecting “some sort of formal filing” “soon.”

“We are looking at other lawsuits against operators who are defying California’s law,” Pacelle said. “We issued a major report on the topic nearly two years ago and shared the details with all the stores. Then, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote to them, so they are all aware of the law and their need to comply.”