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PETA Pounces On Hermès, Prada, Louis Vuitton

Hermes Birkin 35 Ostrich 3

PETA slams fashion houses that carry ostrich leather. But why blame brands for supplier shortcomings?

Not too long ago, Jane Birkin and the Crocodile Hermès was the big issue. (Whatever happened to that?) But someone’s still not happy from the PETA camp.

In a video exposé by PETA, they identified the world’s capital of ostrich skin in Western Cape, South Africa. The tape plays an interview with what appears to be a worker in the ostrich skin farm saying they supply the leather to LVMH, Prada, and Hermés. It plays further saying those cute, little three-day old birds are used for wallets and other leather goods. It delves a bit deeper, saying that feathers are plucked out of one-year old ostriches while alive (with a bag over their heads) and are lined up for slaughter as young as one year old, even though they live up to 40 years. With warning, the video shows the electric stunning, neck slitting, and plucking of the feathers off the animals. That the resulting bumpy skin is used for various leather goods, and the feather is used for dusters for cleaning, boas for show girls. (No mention where the meat is used though, so I’m not sure if it goes to the market or thrown away.) The almost six-minute video puts ostriches being treated by farms as nothing more than walking merchandise, instead of treating them as the intelligent, living creatures that they are.

Hermes Birkin 35 Ostrich 1

The problem here is that they put the names of LVMH, Prada and Hermès as the evil giants behind this, asking the public to request these fashion houses to pull ostrich leather off of their product lines. Though these fashion houses don’t always carry ostrich leather, like Hermès’ Birkins. If they do, they are extremely hard to get- reserved only for special orders or VIPs. Some brands like Louis Vuitton put them on Rare and Exceptional categories, making it a low quantity, limited edition kind of item. PETA somehow doesn’t mention that perhaps the farm handlers are the ones that don’t treat the animals humanely and should be the ones to be held accountable.

Ostriches’ slaughter process – as shown in the edited video – is: they are stunned first, and slit in the neck after. It appears swift (definitely not painless). But no life ends well. Even cows and pigs face the same fate. No doubt, all kinds of slaughter houses are bloody. (Though commercial meat is a different discussion.)

When it comes to exotic leather, it’s hard to pick a side. They are exceptionally expensive, and comes with CITES papers to be signed. So for big fashion houses that carry them, they are assumed within acceptable measures to comply to international fair trade, mandated by laws. How then can fashion houses and consumers be blamed despite paying all due taxes in acquiring exotic skins?

Hermes Birkin 35 Ostrich 2

I’m not saying that I’m a heartless consumer. But PETA sometimes has a way to position a cause distortedly. If ostriches are indeed maltreated, it’s so easy to make an enemy. And it’s so easy to pin Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Prada as the enemy, because they charge so much for exotic leather bags are the brands that face the consumer. If you think about it, aren’t suppliers the ones with the first and foremost responsibility to deliver goods for and in fair trade, using the most acceptable practices in the first place?


Photo from Newsweek. I don’t recall Hermès selling this bag design?

PETA never names these farms, and never asks these suppliers to pay the fines/violations captured by their research. Instead, they would go head-first to fight the fashion houses and ask consumers to boycott them. All the while, LVMH, Hermès, Prada and consumers pay the fair trade taxes and sign all the papers attesting fair trade.

To me, if indeed the farms mistreat animals, it looks like anyone who sells and buys ostrich/exotic leather are victims of suppliers’ malpractice. And PETA is misdirecting the issue. What’s most offensive is, they are rallying in front of Hermès with a design that the house doesn’t sell! Hermès definitely sells ostrich leather bags, but with CITES papers. And nothing that looks like this. (It doesn’t look like an Hermès bag at all! Or correct me in the comments.)

Prada reportedly declined to comment, according to the NYTimes. But Hermès has released their official statement about the issue. Saying:

Hermès refutes claims made by PETA regarding the farming conditions of ostriches in South Africa and condemns this new groundless claim.

Contrary to what the video broadcast by the association suggests:

  • The farms shown in the videos do not belong to Hermès.
  • Hermès operates at a secondary level within this industry.
  • The small quantities of ostrich leather used by Hermès do not come from farms but tanneries which, as per all Hermès suppliers, are subject to permanent and stringent controls.
  • Ostrich farming’s first vocation is the production of meat for food and feather production; both industries combined represent a bigger share than the production of leather.
  • Farming conditions in South Africa are closely monitored by several independent institutions: NSPCA (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), SAVA (South African Veterinarian Association), DAFF (South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries).

Hermès is always active and vigilant when it comes to corporate social responsibility. It carries out systematic checks on its suppliers and makes sure they strictly comply with local and international policies, and always strives to adhere to best practices in order to improve these policies.

Hermès deplores the relentless attacks by PETA aiming to harm its reputation through a dishonest representation of the facts and a complete ignorance of the deep ethical commitment of Hermès to the fight against animal cruelty, as well as any other welfare concerns.

I’m a brand lover of leather. But under the assumption that I pay luxury money for guaranteed best practices in the manufacturing with whatever material used. What I fail to see here is PETA’s accurate claims that brands are responsible for third party supplier practices. It failed to show Hermès orchestrating ostrich slapping themselves. Seems an awful lot of farmers faults, governed by laws and not brands.

What do you think of the story?

Images from Portero.

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