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We are committed to improving animal welfare and traceability in our goose down and feather supply chain. We use down in our outerwear, sleeping bags, footwear, and accessories because of its superior insulating properties and warmth-to-weight ratio. In 2014 we launched the RESPONSIBLE DOWN STANDARD (RDS) in partnership with Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit dedicated to sustainability in the apparel and textile industry, and Control Union Certifications, an accredited third-party certification body with expertise in agriculture and farm systems. The RDS ensures that our down does not come from animals that have been subjected to any unnecessary harm, such as force-feeding or live-plucking, provides traceability in our supply chain, and helps validate and track the down used in our products from farm to finished garment. We have been using certified down since Fall 2015 and in Fall 2016 100% of our retail and wholesale down products will be certified to the RDS.
The RDS has gained great momentum and adoption across the supply chain. In 2015 over 40 brands had initiated certification of their supply chains to the RDS and over 900 sites were certified in Europe, North America, and Asia, covering an estimated 150 million birds at the farm level. Additionally, around 240 processors, garment factories, and trading units were certified.
Each step of our down supply chain before our products reach our customers is audited and certified to the Responsible Down Standard. Additionally, each time ownership of the ducks and geese or down material changes hands, a transaction certificate, or document from our certification organization verifying conformity to the RDS is issued.
A couple of years ago we became aware of the potential mistreatment of animals in the food supply chain from which we sourced our down. We had been relying on self-declarations from our suppliers but it became clear that this was not sufficient. The down supply chain is very complex and the animals and raw materials typically change hands many times, making traceability difficult. Due to this complexity, when we developed the RDS we sought input from experts in animal welfare, standard development, and materials traceability. A team from The North Face traveled to China and Eastern Europe to evaluate our supply chains in those regions. Because down can be sourced from small farms as well as large slaughterhouses, the team evaluated everything from hatcheries to family farms to processing facilities.
We tapped the expertise of two key partners, Control Union Certifications and Textile Exchange, to develop a standard that addresses the down supply’s diverse challenges. After it was complete we gifted ownership of the RDS to Textile Exchange, thus opening it up for use by any organization in any industry.