BRANDS supporting the development of a global wool standard remain steadfast to ban mulesed-status wool from the Textile Exchange’s Responsible Wool Standard (RWS).
The second draft of the voluntary wool sheep welfare standard prohibits the practice of mulesing, despite feedback from Australian woolgrowers urging the inclusion as an intermediate strategy to breeding flystrike resistant sheep.
Two years in the pipeline, the RWS sets out guidelines for growers to meet animal welfare and sustainability standards.
If the RWS is pursued, major brands like Target, H&M and PVH, will be encouraged to exclusively buy non-mulesed or cease-mulesed wool.
In the first stakeholder review, a woolgrower, who ceased mulesing in 2007 through genetic selection, urged the technical group to allow mulesing as an intermediate strategy - providing pain relief was used and a breeding strategy was in place, to transition their flock to unmulesed status.
This view was echoed by another who feared a potential perverse outcome if the RWS encouraged price incentives for unmulesed wool.
“Producers may try to move too quickly to un-mulesed status and actually create more suffering through increased flystrike because the breeding strategy and management strategy is not robust enough for different animal types,” they said.
The feedback was debated by the Wool International Working Group who unanimously objected the inclusion of mulesing in the standards.
During a meeting on April 28, a brand representative said including mulesing in the standards was non-negotiable.
“I don’t think any brand selling to consumers wants to be associated with mulesing,” they said.
“We have stopped buying wool from Australia, and we would rather buy courser wool than to buy wool associated with mulesing.
“Australia has had a lot of time to stop this practice.”
Another element of the standard under review was the recommended feeding management plan which was regarded as “burdensome and opens the producer up to outside control and potential loss of trade secrets”. The steering committee adjusted this recommendation to be included in an auditors interview with the woolgrower.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) declined to be a part of the development of the RWS, while the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) are an observer on the steering committee.
Textile Exchange industry integrity director Anne Gillespie said the aim was to have the engagement and support of the IWTO and AWI.
“We’ve had many positive conversations with individual members of the two organizations, there is a strong interest by these companies to work with the RWS, and we already have very strong commitment from brands,” Ms Gillespie said.
“We are trying to provide the space for all perspectives to be heard; to give a voice to farmers so that their needs are understood, and to explain the pressures that are driving brands to ask for a global standard.
“The more transparency we bring to the system, the more everyone can act strategically.”
Textile Exchange has developed voluntary standards used by the textile industry, including the Organic Content Standard and the Responsible Down Standard.
The RWS review period ends June 3.