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PETA Slams ‘Sham’ Responsible Down Standard

Animal activists have accused some of fashion’s biggest names of sourcing from so-called “responsible” down suppliers in Vietnam that they say are connected to “unspeakable cruelty” to ducks.

New undercover footage released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Tuesday appeared to reveal grisly scenes from facilities that provide down for Nam Vu, which the animal-welfare group claims sells the feathery insulation to Gap, H&M, Lacoste, Uniqlo and others, as well as to Vina Prauden, allegedly a Guess supplier.

In clips from the video, workers are seen slashing the throats and cutting off the feet of “fully conscious” birds. In others, ducks hang upside down from shackles as they’re dredged through an electrified water bath designed to paralyze them, except that many are still twitching when they’re gutted by someone waiting at the end of the line. One slaughterhouse owner told PETA investigators that her employees never check for signs of consciousness before slaughtering the birds.

“Shoppers at H&M, Gap, Guess and other big-name stores should assume that down in their products came from tortured birds,” said PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman. “PETA Asia has exposed the Responsible Down Standard as a sham that doesn’t protect animals, and we encourage everyone to shun all down in favor of warm and cozy vegan clothing that leaves animals in peace.”

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Vina Prauden said that it has cut off the part of its supply chain covering Vietnamese farms and slaughterhouses as it investigates the matter. Vietnamese down materials, it told Sourcing Journal, will not be distributed until their “transparency is guaranteed.” Nam Vu, too, said that it will “immediately take action” to reinspect all its farms and slaughterhouses

It must be noted, however, that Gap, H&M, Lacoste and Uniqlo denied sourcing from either of the down suppliers that PETA names. Guess did not respond to a request for comment, though Vina Prauden said it wasn’t a customer.

Animal welfare is very important to us and no animals should be harmed in the production of our products,” a spokesperson for H&M, which outlawed angora and mohair following previous PETA exposés, told Sourcing Journal. “We have a clear ambition level on how we want to improve animal welfare in our supply chain and the textile industry. We also work actively to strengthen the way we source animal-deriving materials so that we can ensure the welfare of animals.”

Gap, which also shuns angora and mohair, likewise said that it is “deeply committed” to the ethical sourcing of its product, including the humane treatment of animals. Uniqlo noted that it prohibits sourcing from farms that practice live plucking or force feeding, while Lacoste said that any breach of its animal-welfare standards would result in the “immediate” termination of any business relationship in question.

PETA insists, however, that H&M admitted earlier this year that it does not have full traceability to the farm level and won’t for years because tracing a fiber through a supply chain is—in the retailer’s words—“super challenging.” (H&M said this statement was taken out of context and did not refer to down specifically.) It wants the Cos owner and other major retailers to ban down altogether.

Textile Exchange, the nonprofit that manages the Responsible Down Standard, or RDS, said that it’s investigating PETA’s allegations as a “matter of urgency” with the involved certification body. The chain-of-custody scheme is meant to ensure “to the highest possible standard” that down and feathers don’t come from animals that have been subjected to unnecessary harm “from hatching to slaughter.” Live plucking is verboten, as is rough physical contact such as kicking, striking or dragging.

“We take allegations regarding animal welfare concerns very seriously,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “The video shared by PETA shows numerous unacceptable violations of the RDS requirements, including the critical requirement that birds are handled humanely on farms and at slaughter sites. We will share an update from our investigation once this is concluded.”

Alternatives to goose or duck-derived plumage have grown over the years as concerns over animal welfare, amplified through social media, continue to mount. Most involve synthetic materials, though virgin polyester stuffing has started to give way to fibers made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, a fashion feedstock that is not without controversy. Recycled down, extracted from castoff coats and bedding, is a product that is also gaining ground. A fourth option is available in the form of Pangaia’s Flwrdwn (pronounced “flower down”), which it spins using a combination of hand-picked native wildflowers, a corn-based biopolymer and a patented aerogel.

Last week, the London-based startup unveiled a “new and improved” version of Flwrdwn, which at 567 cubic inches per 30 grams has an 83-percent-higher fill power than its predecessors. Pangaia accomplished this, it said, by tweaking the processing and form of the biopolymer within the composition. It’s available to put through the paces in four new styles—a reversible mid-weight jacket, a gilet, a trench coat and a bomber jacket—clad in recycled nylon.

“Flwrdwn was created as an innovative material solution that has the ability to replace goose down traditionally used for insulation purposes,” Amanda Parkes, Pangaia’s chief innovation officer, told Sourcing Journal. “Our latest iteration Flwrdwn 1.2 demonstrates that a natural, animal-free and fossil-free alternative is a viable option and that with greater adoption, we can push the apparel industry toward a more responsible, kinder future.”