"Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
Patagonia's mission statement makes it clear the organization is committed to far more than keeping nature lovers warm. While communicating this mission is mostly a job for Marketing, carrying it out is Procurement's responsibility. After more than three years, Patagonia's purchasing team believe they've settled on sourcing practices that serve their dedication to both environmental responsibility and product quality.
Supply chains that handle animals and animal products are - by their very nature - a lightning rod for controversy. With over a million vegans in America alone, organizations like Patagonia cannot help but attract scrutiny. This is particularly true in the era of cell phone videos and social media campaigns. While inhumane practices might have gone unnoticed in the past, today's consumers enjoy almost real-time visibility into the their preferred brands' supply chains.
Even among animal product supply chains, the market for wool is particularly fraught. To protect against blowflys, Australian sheep typically undergo the mulesing process. Introduced in the 1930s, the procedure involves the removal of wool-bearing skin from the animals' hindquarters. The painful practice has inflamed animal rights groups for decades and inspired organizations including Abercrombie & Fitch and Liz Claiborne to boycott Australian wool altogether.
It was a 2005 anti-mulesing campaign that first inspired Patagonia to reevaluate its approach to wool procurement. At the time, Patagonia made its purchases in an open market. Untraceable, these purchases led Patagonia to tacitly support the controversial procedure. They responded to PETA's campaign by gradually migrating their wool fiber supply chain to traceable regions of New Zealand and Australia. They were so committed to making the switch that they even delayed the development of a new merino wool product line.
The California-based organization took another step toward a mulesing-free supply chain in 2011 when they partnered with The Nature Conservancy and Ovis 21. Promoting holistic grazing practices, these partners not only promised a cruelty-free supply chain, but also shared Patagonia's commitment to restoring grasslands. Over the next three years, the partnership saw Patagonia eliminate untraceable wool from its supply chain and spearhead the creation of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS).
In 2015, however, Patagonia learned the hard way that close, consistent auditing is an essential component of managing a supply chain. In August of that year, PETA released a a graphic video depicting inhumane practices within Ovis 21 farms. Patagonia quickly accepted the blame and acknowledged their gaps in supply chain visibility. "We have worked closely with Ovis 21 on its progress toward holistic grazing," a company spokesperson wrote, "however, beyond verifying that no mulesing occurs, we have not audited its animal-welfare practices and were unaware of the issues raised in the video." Patagonia cut ties with Ovis 21 and suspended all of its wool purchasing soon after.
The organization recently announced that its efforts to develop a more responsible wool supply chain are complete. Over the last three years, they've worked to ensure that every one of their products meets the RWS's strict requirements and developed even stricter standards of their own.
Describing their years-long effort, Patagonia lists supply chain visibility as its primary challenge. "For the majority of wool sourcing brands," they write, "even mapping their wool to the farm is nearly impossible due to the number of consolidators, agents, and traders that are a feature of the global wool market." It's a testament to Patagonia's commitment that they've managed to identify suppliers capable of providing visibility at the farm level and across the supply chain.
The successful campaign is also a case study in world-class supplier partnerships. Patagonia is quick to admit that they're asking a lot of the farmers they work with. Their Patagonia Wool Standard not only includes stipulations related to product quality, environmental sustainability, and humane treatment, but also tasks farmers with providing visibility into their own downstream supply chains. That means the farmers must provide information related to their animals' transportation, sale, and slaughter. Patagonia is immensely grateful to their new, progressive partners and looks forward to producing more of the high-quality, cruelty-free products they're known for. They write, "We are honored they chose us to feature their wool in our products and applaud them for their commitment."
Poor supply chain visibility is dangerous, common, and altogether preventable. Looking to take a closer look at your operations and develop more transparent supplier relationships? Reach out to Source One's sustainable Procurement experts today.