Our Journey to Sourcing Responsible Down
Hard-learned lessons, shifting standards and Patagonia’s path to the most robust animal-welfare certification yet—the Responsible Down Standard.
In December 2010, the animal-rights organization FOUR PAWS (Germany) accused Patagonia of using down from live-plucked and force-fed birds; we refuted this. During the controversy though, we struck up a conversation with FOUR PAWS, who told us they suspected that—on the basis of photographs that appeared on Patagonia’s Our Footprint webpage—we were using down from greylag geese and, conventionally, these geese in Hungary are raised for foie gras, which involves force-feeding to fatten the liver, a controversial practice banned in most European countries and some states in the United States (including California). This practice, however, is not banned in France (where foie gras is a national delicacy) or in Hungary, the country from which we source our down.
As a result of the online campaign launched by FOUR PAWS, we received around 30,000 emails on this topic in one month. Our supply chain responsibility team conducted on-site investigations and almost immediately found out that FOUR PAWS had been right on one count: There was evidence of force- feeding for foie-gras production in one partner supply chain. We also learned from FOUR PAWS about the practice of live-plucking, where geese have their down and feathers plucked out of them while the animals are alive. This mostly happens in farms where parent geese supply hatchlings that will later become the geese that supply meat to the food industry and the down used by apparel companies, home brands and other industries. While our investigation then did not yield any evidence of live-plucking, we knew that in order to have a responsible down supply chain we had to overhaul our existing one, create a new standard and start doing audits of our entire supply chain, starting with the parent farms.
With help from FOUR PAWS, and other animal welfare experts, we developed an internal standard that we called the Traceable Down Standard (TDS). Rolling this standard out in our supply chains took countless trips, meetings, audits and phone calls to implement the standard, not to mention time and money. We were lucky to find a supplier that partnered with us on this journey—Downlite, a duck and goose down processor from Ohio, US. Third-party auditors were sent to farms, slaughterhouses and processors to evaluate our supply chain to the standards we had created. We also provided education about our standard to executives at Downlite and impacted farmers and suppliers because we knew that without their buy-in, they would not see the value in upholding the standards. And we required very high levels of auditor expertise in animal welfare. It was clear to us that a quality, environmental or other type of auditor could not effectively evaluate animals’ well-being.
Around the same time, several large outdoor brands began partnering with the Textile Exchange in drafting an industry standard called the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). At first, the RDS failed to meet what we considered acceptable standards, including not requiring parent-farm audits, which leaves animals at risk for live-plucking. We decided that we could not accept the standard as it was, and while it would have been easier to join the majority of other apparel brands in requiring the RDS, we chose to go our own way and keep to the high standard of the TDS.
In 2015, we partnered with NSF International, an organization that provides public health certifications, testing and audits, to make our Traceable Down Standard a globally available certification, so that other brands could sign up, too. We worked with NSF International and other stakeholders, including FOUR PAWS, Textile Exchange and the European Outdoor Group to perfect the standards. Once the Advanced Global TDS was approved, numerous large supply chains (including 350 farms and 20 factories) spanning seven countries had to undergo a rigorous certification audit and pass it, every year. We found excellent partners to implement these standards, including down washing and processing facilities, slaughterhouses and farmers. The farmers we met throughout the world have all genuinely wanted to care for their animals in the best way possible while they are in their custody, and this has been very rewarding to witness. Even small changes in farming operations can have a big positive impact on the daily lives of animals.
Even though we forged our own path with the Advanced Global TDS, we remained part of the international working group of the RDS, which was working on revisions to the standard. We continued to influence the standard to strengthen its animal-welfare criteria, and we engaged industry associations (Textile Exchange, Outdoor Industry Association, European Outdoor Group), brands and NGOs (FOUR PAWS and Humane Society International) continually on this topic.
Though we continued to advocate for other brands to begin sourcing Advanced Global TDS–certified down, no major brand ever did, despite continued efforts. Without other buyers, all of the material produced by our Advanced Global TDS–certified suppliers was the responsibility of Patagonia alone to purchase. We knew this was a risk, but we wanted to prove that Advanced Global TDS could be implemented, and that we could use our learnings to inspire the industry.
In 2020, the negative economic impact of the pandemic on our business and our suppliers’ business was massive, and we were forced to take a hard look at how we could help our down suppliers while still ensuring that animal welfare at our farms was not compromised. Since our finished goods factories were double certified to the Advanced Global TDS as well as the RDS for several years, we decided to ease some of the audit requirements for those factories. We did this for one year, knowing that the separate systems we had in place were not at risk of being terminated.
At the same time, we saw the positive developments in the RDS—its latest version incorporated steps for assessing conditions at the parent farms, which was a major milestone for this standard. By including more regulations on transportation, slaughter and mutilations, the RDS had grown more robust in terms of animal-welfare safeguards.
We realized the importance for the industry to coalesce around one standard, and since the RDS significantly improved its animal-welfare criteria, we decided to join other brands in requiring RDS certification for all down (excluding recycled down). Beginning in Fall 2022, we began sourcing only 100% certified RDS down from supply chains that were already a part of our Advanced Global TDS networks, located in Hungary and Poland. (Due to existing inventory, we will continue to offer Advanced Global TDS in our sleeping bags. Once we've sold through the stock on-hand, we will only offer products that contain RDS down.)
This decision required a lot of deep thinking and extensive discussions within Patagonia. We believe our choice to exclusively use the RDS is going to benefit the welfare of the geese in the supply chains where we source down. Also, we can now engage with the RDS from within, instead of agitating from the outside. Working with the Textile Exchange, animal-welfare groups, suppliers and other brands, we will continue to look for ways to strengthen the criteria of the RDS, as well as its governance mechanisms such as auditor training, audits and any oversight programs from certification bodies.
Leading an examined life is part of the Patagonia philosophy, and it also applies to our down supply chain. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished and learned through Advanced Global TDS in the past 10 years, and we look forward to working with other brands on the RDS.