Call it the veal-calf concern of this decade: The down in many winter coats and other apparel is obtained through oppressive animal-welfare practices, and Patagonia has taken the lead in trying to right that wrong with the introduction of its Traceable Down Standard — and an explanatory video to boot.
But Patagonia has come to the rescue with its “TDS” standards, which dictate that all of the down found in its products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed and never live-plucked. It provides, as the company said, “the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry.” And TDS is notably stricter on that account, Patagonia maintains, than the “Responsible Down Standard” (RDS) developed by competitors Textile Exchange and The North Face.
“It’s an animal-welfare issue,” Wendy B. Savage, manager of supply-chain social responsibility and traceability for Patagonia, told Sustainable Brands. “Our birds are respected.”
Most geese are grown in Poland, Hungary and China, Savage said, at operations that variously hatch birds, harvest their eggs, sell the poultry meat to food suppliers and the down feathers to apparel companies and other customers. Patagonia reintroduced down into its product line in 2002 but didn’t examine where it was coming from or how it was produced.
That changed precipitously in 2010 after the 4Paws NGO called out Patagonia for animal cruelty down in its supply chain. The company got 36,000 e-mails from around the world on the issue.
“These people were calling for affidavits from our suppliers about their practices,” Savage recalled, “and it wasn’t an issue we knew about.”
The company then dug into the issue and found that live-plucking — which produces pain and distress in birds, apparently comparable to what humans would experience if their hair were pulled out — and force-feeding, for the plump goose liver used in foie gras, were widespread in the industry. Patagonia then set to developing the highest standard for animal welfare in the business and has introduced it as TDS.
While the The North Face’s Responsible Down Standard — which H&M, Eddie Bauer, Marmot and a number of other prominent outdoor apparel companies committed to just last week — strives to ensure traceability, Savage pointed out that it falls short of TDS standards in some ways. For example, TDS “goes all the way back to the parent farm” where birds are hatched to make sure those birds aren’t live-plucked, while the RDS audit includes only goose hatcheries. And while RDS is scheduled to be implemented in 2017, Patagonia promises its compliance with TDS right away.