Brands such as Esprit, Gap and H&M are reportedly reconsidering their use of alpaca wool after an undercover exposé by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals appeared to show animals being brutally handled at a farm in Peru.
Shot at Mallkini, the world’s largest privately owned alpaca farm, and released Monday, the footage presents a horrific tableau of struggling, crying alpacas being slammed on tables and roughly sheared with blood pouring from wounds, which the animal-rights group said were sewn up without adequate pain relief.
“PETA’s investigation pulled back the curtain on violent shearing that leaves alpacas bleeding and crying out,” Tracy Reiman, executive vice president at PETA, said in a statement. “We urge all retailers to protect these vulnerable animals by banning alpaca wool and are calling on consumers to leave these cruelly produced items on the rack.”
In response, Esprit is phasing out alpaca wool from its collections, while Gap and H&M have severed ties with Mallkini’s parent company, the Michell Group, the leading exporter of alpaca fiber, though they’ve stopped short of banning the fiber outright. PETA has also asked Peruvian authorities to investigate Mallkini for possible violations of the country’s animal protection laws.
PETA, whose motto reads in part that “animals are not ours to wear,” says that alpaca wool production, besides causing “immense suffering” is also “terrible for the planet.” It points to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), which ranks alpaca wool only below silk in terms of cradle-to-gate—thought not cradle-to-grave, as some have criticized—environmental impact.
Michell Group, in a statement, says it rejects the claim that the treatment of alpacas in PETA’s video “constitutes established practices.”
“The vast majority of alpacas are quite docile and allow themselves to be sheared with great ease,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “They are kept together with their families and taken to the workspace without any further effort. A small proportion of alpacas do show nervousness and require a little more restraint, but the process still takes a few minutes and is subject to a rigorous handling protocol, to take care of them and not cause them any further stress.”
Annual shearing, the spokesperson noted, is not only to obtain the fiber but also to prevent the animal from suffering diseases that excess hair might cause.
According to Michell Group, Mallkini is the world’s only alpaca farm with organic certifications granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Organic EU Regulation.
“It is also a space open to tourists from all over the world, where visitors can become acquainted with the interesting world of this beautiful animal and even watch the shearing process,” the spokesperson said.
Michell Group says it “sincerely regrets” what was shown in the video and it has started an internal investigation, as well as reached out to PETA to “establish a dialogue on this matter.”
A Gap spokesperson told Sourcing Journal that since learning about PETA’s investigation, it has provided support to Textile Exchange to create the Responsible Alpaca Standard.
“Through this effort, we are helping bring together stakeholders across Peru as well as globally including auditors, suppliers, workers’ organizations, brands and animal rights groups to shape these standards and the monitoring and due diligence protocols to help implement the standard,” the spokesperson said. “In addition to this, across our family of brands, we remain committed to sourcing more recycled materials as well as investing in new and innovative alternative to animal derived fibers.”
PETA has worked to get other animal fibers banned before. While its actions against wool have been less than successful, the group’s 2018 campaign against mohair drew immediate ire and near instantaneous action. In a matter of months, 320 companies, including Topshop owner Arcadia Group, Asos, Gap, H&M and Inditex-owned Zara, rejected or pledged to reject the use of mohair.