Down is warm and fluffy and the absolute best when it comes to thermal insulation. How the down is obtained, however, is where things get delicate. Even though almost 90% of the world’s down is removed from ducks and geese during slaughter, there are still cases of live-plucking – a practice that clearly falls under animal cruelty.
Fortunately, the topic of sustainability has been becoming more and more prevalent, especially in the outdoor industry. Almost all manufacturers obtain their down from companies that are either certified by external organisations or have established their own market standards. Today, we would like to introduce some of these labels:
Responsible Down Standard
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) was created by The North Face in collaboration with the non-profit Textile Exchange after the animal rights organisation PETA and Vier Pfoten (Four Paws) had launched a large down campaign and brought the issue to the attention of the public.
The RDS certifies the suppliers, ensuring that the down feathers come exclusively from ducks and geese during slaughter, that they live healthy lives free of pain and suffering and force-feeding. The supply chain is audited from breeding up to the manufacture of down until it makes it to retail. In order for a manufacturer to receive a RDS label, 100% of the down must be produced according to their standards and free of down from dubious sources.
The certificate is valid for a total of 14 months. During this time, RDS carries out both announced and unannounced audits. During the audit, the auditor must be granted complete access to all sites. The RDS criteria can be seen in full here.
Some of the brands that use RDS-certified down are:
Global Traceable Down Standard
None other than the American outdoor company Patagonia – who else? – established the basic form of the Global TDS. Based on their own certification and in collaboration with other companies as well as the National Sanitation Foundation, Patagonia developed the Traceable Down Standard.
Presently, this is the strictest standard in the down feather industry and guarantees that the down is not from live-plucked and force-fed birds. The Global TDS certification also requires that the parent farms be audited. RDS only has an additional qualification for this. The audits are always unannounced, unless an announcement is required by law. Timing is crucial for the audits as well. Audits are carried out in the months in which force-feeding and live-plucking are most likely to be practised.
The following manufacturers use Global TDS-certified down:
Small labels – better than nothing, but not uncontroversial
If you opt for products with RDS or Global TDS certification, you can be certain that the animals weren’t subjected to pain during the production of down. In addition to the two well-known standards, there are other lesser known labels that are more geared toward bedding and fashion products. Unfortunately, more often than not, only the final product is inspected, leaving the supply chain largely unaudited. Some may say it’s better than nothing, but in all actuality, it doesn’t bring us any closer to obtaining ethically sourced down.
What about other companies?
Patagonia has shown us how it’s done! All you need is a company philosophy and the will to implement it for animal rights. Simple, right? For this reason, in-house efforts of other manufacturers couldn’t be more welcome. After all, they have the power to force their suppliers to comply with conventions. There are several outdoor brands that get their down from RDS or Global TDS-certified sources, but others follow their own standards.
Fjällräven’s Down Promise
The down promise is the spearhead of the certification business. The Swedish company’s down promise is transparent and allows for 100% traceability. Live-plucking and force-feeding are totally forbidden, and the facilities are inspected regularly.
Mountain Equipment’s “Down Codex”
The “Down Codex” is the English company’s way of ensuring that the down used for their products does not come from birds that have been live-plucked or force fed and that have been raised in good conditions. Every down product has its own code you can use on the Trace Your Down website to trace the entire supply chain. The supply chain is also independently tested by the International Down and Feather Laboratory (IDFL).
The “Yeti Ethical Down Code”
The bottom line
The topic of sustainability is something that applies to just about every single outdoor product category. And, this is obviously an incredibly positive development. After all, it’s extremely important that we keep our ecological footprint as small as possible. But, as always, don’t believe everything you read. Not every label or certification for that matter is as comprehensive as it may seem. In other words, do some extra research or feel free to ask one of your fellow Alpine Trekkers for some extra info!