Ethical Sourcing of Wool

Wool is used in outdoor gear as an insulator, usually found in lightweight baselayer garments. Merino is the most popular type of wool used in outdoor clothing. Lanolin, a waxy substance secreted by wool-bearing animals, gives Wool a special property; if you're working hard on the hills, building up a sweat and wearing wool, when the wool garment dries there's almost no odour left behind from your sweat.

As wool is a natural product, coming straight off a sheep's back, it's biodegradeable so if you were to bury it in the ground it would eventually compost. So environmentally it's pretty good; all you have to consider is the effect that livestock have in terms of land use, CO2 production and the processing & manufacturing methods associated with the garment you have or are considering purchasing.

The main ethical issue with wool is how the Sheep are treated and how they get to live their lives.

Key Issues

These are some of the main issues that are associated with farming sheep. You may want to do your own research to see what the individual brands are saying about where and how their wool is sourced.

  • Mulesing: This is the barbaric & painful process of removing the skin around the sheep's backside. The aim of this is to prevent flystrike which is when flies manage to lay their eggs around this area of the sheep, they hatch and then the sheep is infested with maggots, eating them alive. This can be prevented through better animal husbandry, insecticides and closer monitoring of the livestock.


  • Animal Welfare: From best practice husbandry to the promotion of the 5 freedoms of livestock, Sheep deserve to have a a good life as much as any other animal on the planet. Unfortunately, these stipulations are not always adhered to.


  • Preserving Land Health: Intensive sheep farming can use methods that harm the environment. It can also promote land clearing and degredation. Methods such as allowing animals to graze on smaller patches of land and for shorter periods of time allows the land to somewhat recover. Other issues include soil health, biodiversity and the protection of native species.

The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)

The Responsible Wool Standard is an industry tool designed to recognize the best practices of farmers, ensuring that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated responsibly. It is an independent, voluntary standard, companies can choose to become certified to the RWS.

The goals of the Responsible Wool Standard are to provide the industry with a tool to recognize the best practices of farmers; ensuring that wool comes from farms that have a progressive approach to managing their land, practice holistic respect for animal welfare of the sheep and respect the Five Freedoms of animal welfare.

Goals

The goals of the Responsible Wool Standard are to provide the industry with a tool to recognize the best practices of farmers; ensuring that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated responsibly.

Objectives

  • Ensure that wool does not come from animals that have been subjected to any unnecessary harm.
  • Reward and influence the wool industry for strong animal welfare and land management practices.
  • Provide robust chain of custody from farm to final product.
  • Create an industry benchmark to drive improvements in animal care and land management where needed.
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