Although neither Skintraction nor the liquid nitrogen process developed by Australian Wool Innovation have been commercialised, Textile Exchange’s Director of Industry Integrity Anne Gillespie said the RWS International Working Group has not found the mulesing alternatives to be acceptable for the RWS.
“We have had many robust discussions on this point, and so far the agreement is that the public would not accept a “responsible” wool standard that allows mulesing in any form.”
“However, the standard is still in review and we invite all submissions and suggestions that we can bring back to the stakeholders,” she said.
Submissions on the draft Responsible Wool Standard are being sought until April 15, 2016, when Textile Exchange and the RWS International Working Group will make revisions to the standard and release it for a second review period of 30 days.
No Australian request to include mulesing with pain relief
The current draft RWS document specifically prohibits surgical mulesing – which has provoked processor and Australian woolgrower concern – but the standard’s working group has not had a request to allow wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief.
“We have had comments through the media, but since starting the stakeholder review period, there have been no direct requests to consider allowing for mulesing.”
Ms Gillespie said the aim of the RWS is to reduce any suffering experienced by sheep and whatever can be done to this end is encouraged.
“Mulesing has long been a focal point for sheep welfare issues and all efforts to minimize pain will be of benefit to the perception of the Australian wool industry.”
Textile Exchange reached out to AWI
Ms Gillespie said Textile Exchange’s first step in the development of the RWS was to reach out to potential stakeholders in the wool industry, including the main wool organisations in Australia, to invite engagement in the development of the standard.
“TE has received considerable input from a number of private companies and individuals, but not yet from any broader industry organisations.”
Ms Gillespie said Textile Exchange reached out to Australian Wool Innovation initially in the spring of 2014 — “to several people within both AWI and the International Wool Textile Organisation.”
“We only reached out to AWI directly: we mapped out stakeholders to best of our abilities from the beginning of the process, but nobody had brought these other groups to our attention (WoolProducers Australia and the Federation of Australian Wool Organisations).”
WoolProducers Australia has said it only recently became aware of the proposed RWS and said the Federation of Australian Wool Organisations (FAWO), of which WPA is a member, had decided there will not be a submission made into the RWS process.
The IWTO has had an observer representative on the Steering Committee of the RWS International Working Group since October 2014, but IWTO Secretary General Elisabeth van Delden has said the body is not supportive “of any kind of commercial standards such as these, as we understand that animal welfare lies with the sovereignty of each member country by having to meet their own national legislations.” The IWTO has developed its own Wool Sheep Welfare Guidelines which it believes reflect the high welfare standards of the industry.
Textile Exchange hopes for more feedback from Australia
Ms Gillespie said Australia is a key player and TE genuinely wants the Australian wool industry to be an active part of the standard’s development, so the needs of everyone are met successfully.
“We continue to hope for strong engagement from all regions of the world.”
Ms Gillespie said Textile Exchange had hoped for more engagement from the Australian industry, but she also understands it is a big industry and moves carefully.
“I am very optimistic by the efforts that have been made on all fronts, particularly with the recent motion passed in the NSW Parliament urging the use of pain relief.
“I have great respect for the work that AWI has done on all aspects of animal welfare, and look forward to learning about the work of the other groups,” she said.
“I see a strong opportunity to work together to forge a positive connection between brands, consumers and the industry.
“If we can engage in open and transparent conversations about the difficult issues, I think that everyone will benefit from a better understanding of the pressures that all are facing.”
Pilot audits in seven countries indicate RWS is achievable
Despite criticism from WoolProducers Australia that the draft RWS standards are unrealistic and unachievable for Australian production systems, Ms Gillespie said the RWS working group is confident that the proposed standards are achievable by professional farmers throughout the world.
“We have conducted 15 pilot audits in seven countries, including Australia and New Zealand, specifically to ensure that the standard will be both practical and effective.
“The feedback from all farms has been very encouraging, and we continue to be responsive to all specific input that we get,” she said.
Ms Gillespie said Textile Exchange’s International Working Group looked closely at the IWTO Guidelines for Wool Sheep Welfare and used them to develop the framework for the RWS.
“However, as guidelines (ie: not mandatory) they do not meet the need of brands to have the assurance they want for their wool products.
“As an independently owned and independently certified voluntary standard, the RWS meets this need.”
Ms Gillespie said although there is legislation addressing animal welfare in many countries, they all vary in terms of the issues they address and the levels to which they are enforced.
“Brands that are sourcing wool globally want to have a single solution that will give them the confidence that their expectations are being met, wherever they source from.
“Voluntary standards have been developed within the textile industry to address many issues – worker welfare, energy use, chemical use, etc. — and they have become important tools to manage risk, set consistent expectations, and to coordinate a large and complicated network of supply chain players.”
RWS supporters growing across the industry
Ms Gillespie said no companies have yet made public commitments beyond their position in the International Working Group (see the current list on the RWS website).
“We have at least nine supply chain members that have told us that they are committed to the RWS, all of which are very significant global players.
“They include wool grower groups, brokers, traders, scourers and spinners from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
“In terms of brands, there are three that have actively begun working with their supply chains, and many more that are planning to do so once the standard is released,” she said.
“We are currently planning in-person brand training seminars in Europe (July 18 in Munich) and the US (first week of August in Salt Lake City, and possibly in New York for September).
“We already have eight companies signing up for the one in Munich, even though it has not yet been publicly announced.”
Ms Gillespie said the Textile Exchange will also hold multiple on-line information sessions during and between these events.
“TE will also be holding a supplier training seminar in Hong Kong on June 16, with a focus on the chain of custody certification that is a core element of the RWS.”
Despite concerns that the RWS might discount wool from unmulesed sheep, forcing sheep producers out of wool production and leaving processors to source wool from a small unmulesed supply, Ms Gillespie said the impact of the RWS on the wool market could not be predicted.
“But the brands that we have been working with are asking for a global standard so that they can continue to use wool with confidence.
“Animal welfare and environmental impact are becoming important factors in sourcing decisions, and mulesing is a public relations risk that many want addressed,” she said.
“A good number of brands are already sourcing non-mulesed wool from best-practice farms from around the world, and are paying the price accordingly.
“As a voluntary standard, the RWS will be used to deliver against the demand brands already have for ‘responsible wool’.”
Ms Gillespie said Textile Exchange hopes that as the standard rolled out, farmers will be able to respond and become certified at a rate that will match demand.
“We know that Australian wool farmers are already very strong in terms of animal welfare and land management, and with the support of industry organizations, they should be able to make relatively simple adjustments needed for certification.”
Ms Gillespie said the Textile Exchange requested to speak at or attend the IWTO conference in Sydney this week, but was told that it was open to members only.