The best way to change the system is from within

The best way to change the system is from within. That certainly seems to be the belief of PETA: the animal welfare organisation’s longstanding strategy of shareholder activism has gone into overdrive over the past year, catching the attention of many in the leather industry.
In January, the organisation bought a single share in French luxury fashion house LVMH, giving it a platform upon which to draft shareholder resolutions and put them to vote at annual general meetings. The stock purchase was the second such move in the space of a year, with Prada targeted in April. May saw PETA member Isabel Goetz publicly confront Hermès chief executive Axel Dumas over his company’s use of exotic skins, an episode that, while gracefully handled, caused no small degree of embarrassment.
PETA wants to eradicate the eating, wearing of and experimenting on animals. Ambitious goals, and yet its shareholder activism is based around much more specific, tangible aims. Recent actions have focused upon forcing fashion houses to stop using exotic animal skins by winning around management, shareholders and customers.
PETA has stakes in 57 individual companies and though it’s extremely rare for its resolutions to pass, the influence of the organisation – and others like it – has increased. A study by research group The Conference Board showed that environmental, social and governance issues made up of two fifths of all resolutions in 2013, a 60% jump in the space of a decade, and average support for such proposals doubled over the same period, reaching 21% in 2013.
PETA’s recent stake acquisitions coincided with the release of a video investigation showing horrendous conditions at crocodile farms in Vietnam, where animals were being killed through a cruel process called ‘pithing’ – in which a steel rod is driven through the spinal column to destroy nerve centres in the tail and head – rather than by more humane captive bolt guns. Employees from two farms were caught on video saying that they had supplied skins to Heng Long, a LVMH-owned tannery based in Singapore. LVMH hit back by saying that it ceased all trading with these farms in 2014, though by then the negative publicity had already done considerable damage.
“Through such exposés people can actually start to relate to exotic animals and understand them,” Yvonne Taylor, PETA’s senior manager of corporate projects, tells Leather International. “That just changes their approach. Suddenly, a crocodile handbag goes from being a luxury product that people want to own to being a badge of shame. The same way people feel about the fur trade they are starting to feel about the exotic skins.”

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