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Patagonia isn’t down with cruelly harvested down. The outdoor-apparel firm announced a decision Wednesday to switch to 100 percent traceable down across its entire collection of down-insulated products, starting with the Fall/Winter 2014 season. Because down offers the lightest-weight and most efficient insulation commercially available, down-insulated jackets remain a key staple in Patagonia’s lineup. The process of extracting duck or goose feathers, however, isn’t always humane. Undercover footage from animal-rights groups reveals workers who yank feathers from pinned-down birds, sometimes so violently they rip open the skins. Plus, buying down can support the production of foie gras by farmers who sell feathers as a byproduct of their force-fed geese.

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DOWN LOWDOWN

Patagonia has itself been accused of using down from force-fed birds. In December 2010, animal-welfare activists from Four Paws criticized the firm for sourcing from Hungary, where foie gras is still legal. An investigation proved Four Paws to be correct: Patagonia was using down from geese harvested for foie gras, as well as meat. The company’s tracing program was inadequate to say the least.

Patagonia is no longer settling for written guarantees and supplier self-certification. Sourced from birds that have neither been force-fed for foie gras nor plucked for their feathers while they’re alive, the new, traceable down will be authenticated through a “holistic” audit that includes physical inspections by an independent, third-party traceability expert.

The chain-of-custody audit leads from the parent farm, where the eggs are laid, to the manufacturing facility.

“Affidavits from suppliers are commonly accepted with minimal verification. It is also common practice to certify only parts of the supply chain without linking all entities that handle the down,” Wendy Savage, social and environmental responsibility manager for Patagonia, says in a statement. “Patagonia’s traceability program is hands-on every step of the way.”

The chain-of-custody audit, she adds, leads from the parent farm, where the eggs are laid, to the manufacturing facility, where the down is padded into garments. “We need to understand every single part of the supply chain,” she says. “Otherwise, we can’t truly feel comfortable claiming the down as traceable.”

For vegans who would prefer to eschew any kind of animal-based product, Patagonia also offers synthetically insulated garments.

+ Patagonia