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Jan Lee headshot

North Face Revamps Its Down Supply Chain

Words by Jan Lee

As we reported a few weeks ago, a growing concern for outdoor gear manufacturers has been the ethical sourcing of goose down. High-quality products like below-zero-rated weather jackets and sleeping bags often contain down and finding ethical sources has been a challenge, as our story on Patagonia’s supply chain demonstrated.

But Patagonia hasn’t been the only company troubled by this problem. The North Face, which has also made its international reputation on high-quality outdoor gear, says it recognized that it was time for a change in the supply chain when it found that most, if not all down they purchased came from geese raised and killed for foie gras. The methods used for “fattening” the goose (the goose’s liver, to be specific) is now considered by many to be inhumane.

In an effort to nullify that concern, says The North Face, it has now “created a Responsible Down Standard that addresses animal welfare issues and traceability in the down supply chain.”

According to North Face, the company now contracts with Control Union Certifications, a third-party certification agency that specializes in a wide spectrum of certifications, including animal welfare standards. Its head offices are in the Netherlands, although its clients span the globe, from timber companies in the UK and tea merchants in India, to agricultural suppliers in Israel.

The North Face also interfaces with Textile Exchange, a 501c3 non-profit organization committed to sustainable textile production methods.

Like Patagonia, The North Face appears to have invested considerable resources inspecting prospective suppliers at all levels of the supply chain in Eastern Europe and Asia, with follow-up interviews and documentation reviews to “better understand their processes.” The latter is important if The North Face wants to ensure that its supply chain remains transparent and accurate.

The clothing retailer is also making an effort to share information with animal welfare groups, retailers and other interested parties. It seems to me that this step (also implemented by Patagonia) is what is really effective in making real changes to industry expectations and standards.

The North Face plans to implement its new down standard in 2014 and at that time, “will enlist Control Union to conduct a full-scale application” of the standard across the company’s supply chain. “This will include onsite audits at every level of the supply chain from hatchery through to garment manufacturing and will result in down that is formally certified and traceable against the requirements of the Responsible Down Standard. By driving positive change across the global supply chain, this standard will also benefit the industry at large.”

We’ll be interested in seeing how these labor-intensive efforts to revamp the supply standards of one of the industry’s most precious materials will help also revamp the way that we regard animal welfare industry wide.

Image of North Face logo courtesy of Graham Smith

Image of North Face jacket courtesy of Alan C.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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