Mountain Equipment uses down for its fantastic insulating properties and overall performance. It has a higher warmth to weight ratio that synthetic insulation, is more compressible and more durable. It is also largely a by-product of the meat industry. But it does of course come from birds; waterfowl to be precise and ducks and geese to be specific and coming from living animals either directly or as a by-product involves impacting upon their welfare and the environment, especially when the majority of the down that is sourced globally comes from farmed birds.
Since we began manufacturing down insulated garments and sleeping bags we have put considerable effort into developing the knowledge and expertise to source the very best qualities of the down for our needs. For many years, that was as far as it went. But then as we moved into the new millennium everything changed; broader animal welfare issues began to bubble to the surface and by 2009, numerous animal welfare charities were citing specific evidence of mistreatment against ducks and geese. Practices such as ‘live plucking’ and ‘moult-harvesting’, already illegal in many countries at that time were said to still be commonly practiced whilst it was also shown that some down was coming from supply chains involved in the production of Foie Gras, a process requiring geese to be force fed.
Because of the nature of our supply chain at that time we were reasonably confident that such practices were unlikely to be associated with our down but we recognised that we
needed to be able to provide assurances to our customers. We also recognised that there were undoubtedly other issues, perhaps equally as important which needed to be addressed. As such we decided that we needed to go considerably further and look at the issue of animal welfare in a much more holistic manner.
But we were starting from scratch, there were no standards, no auditing schemes, little industry knowledge and few if any case-studies. The only thing which seemed to be in abundance at that time was scepticism.
Our starting point was to create a list of assumptions about our supply chain and then to establish whether those assumptions were correct. We took our lead on welfare from the UK’s leading animal welfare charity, the RSPCA and to understand more about the down supply chain itself we turned to the International down and feather laboratory (IDFL) for help.
With their help and the openness of one of our sleeping bag factories we conducted our first site visit in August 2010, in Northern China. Our ‘Happy Geese Project’ , a rather strange title given that the one thing we definitely knew was that the bulk of the down used by us at that time came from ducks was in motion.
From that it became the down project and in January 2011, DOWN CODEX® was formally launched at the ISPO European Outdoor Trade Show. It was an initiative that would enlighten not just ourselves but a whole industry as to how the down supply chain industry really worked, helped show how risk could be managed and led the way in the development of standards and traceability.
“As a specialist sleeping bag and down clothing manufacturer we have over the years committed a great deal of time and ef ort to obtain the very best raw materials for our product requirements. We are now directing our focus to also includetheenvironmental,ethical and animal welfareconcerns relating to our products and raw materials selection.We arecurrently working with our suppliers to be as specific as possible with our description of where our down comes from so customers can make an informed choice about whether to purchase a Mountain Equipment bag or not.”
Mountain Equipment Down Sourcing, Happy Geese Project, 2009.