Long known for shocking, media-savvy stunts and scare tactics, animal-rights activist organization PETA has made a rare, successful appeal to a major corporation. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has persuaded athletic shoemaker Nike (NKE) to stop its fashion footwear subsidiary Cole Haan from selling products made from exotic skins. According to PETA's press release, the activists worked this magic by showing Nike video footage of cruel treatment of animals from an undercover team in Asia.
Nike's new policy extends to all animal skins "considered to be exotic," including alligator, crocodile, lizard, snake, ostrich, fish, and marine mammals. The cruel practices that disturb the activist organization run the gamut from cruelty to torture, even skinning animals alive. In the video, lizards, snakes and alligators are all shown being hunted savagely or killed in a "crowded, filthy factory farm." A lizard is caught by its tail in a noose; a live snake is nailed to a tree by her head so she can be gutted and skinned; alligators are clubbed until motionless.
Nike didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
PETA has called upon other corporations to adopt similar policies. Of course, it wouldn't be PETA without a punny catchphrase. The statement from the group's Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman demands that other retailers worldwide "follow Nike's lead and step away from cruelty to animals by giving exotic leather the boot."
While I tend to frown on PETA's often-scandalous scare tactics (red paint on your furs, anyone?) and obnoxious use of puns (that video? "Inside the Cold-Blooded Exotic Skins Trade"), I agree with the organization's aim here, even if our reasoning differs. The farming and hunting of animals just for their skins or other tokens the international luxury market deems valuable is centuries old and always unconscionable. Taking a creature's life, especially with unnecessary suffering, for nothing more than fashion and conspicuous consumption is not just morally shocking and environmentally unsound, it's inefficient and, in the long term, quite costly.
Where PETA and I differ is in whether the skins of animals should be used for clothing at all. Certainly, the demand for exotic animal skins creates a price incentive that, for many suppliers, is used to justify harvesting them unethically. Avoiding the most valuable skins, which are thus the most likely to be taken regardless of animal suffering, is the right choice for Nike and Cole Haan.
However, if our consumption of these products were to drop to a more sustainable level, it would be possible to do as our forebears did: when an animal is harvested for its meat, do it in such a way that other valuable parts (the skin, horns, hooves and teeth) could be used for various purposes. Exotic skins for shoes? Sure, if the animal was harvested humanely and the meat was eaten, too. After all, snake meat is considered a delicacy in many cultures.
Ideally, rattlesnake boots would only be worn by a person who's mixed with a rattlesnake and come out the victor. Very Louis L'Amour, I know. But such a policy would mean PETA and I could kick up our heels at the same campfire.
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