Patagonia said late Monday it would stop buying wool entirely until it can rebuild a supply chain that ensures humane treatment of sheep after PETA posted a disturbing report featuring grizzly videos of mistreatment of sheep by Argentine ranchers that supply the company with merino wool.

The Ventura, CA-based outdoor brand, which has made promoting sustainable business practices a core  mission, said it terminated its relationship with Ovis 21 in response to an expose released by PETA that included gruesome video of inhumane treatment of sheep by ranchers that supply Ovis 21. 

“In light of this, we’ve made a frank and open-eyed assessment of the Ovis program,”  Patagonia's CEO Rose Marcario wrote on the company's blog, The Cleanest Line. “Our conclusion: it is impossible to ensure immediate changes to objectionable practices on Ovis 21 ranches, and we have therefore made the decision that we will no longer buy wool from them. This is a difficult decision, but it’s the right thing to do.”

“Re-building our wool program-with a partner that can ensure a strong and consistent approach to animal welfare, while also fostering healthy grasslands-will be a significant challenge. However, we reject the notion that cruelty is essential to wool production, despite what PETA claims. Patagonia will continue to make products from wool because of its unique performance attributes. We will continue to sell products made from the wool we’ve already purchased. And we will continue to offer excellent synthetic alternatives for those who prefer them, while constantly pushing to innovate and invest in new materials and better supply chains. But Patagonia will not buy wool again until we can assure our customers of a verifiable process that ensures the humane treatment of animals., which it helped created in 2011 in a bid to promote more sustainable ranching practices. “

A sudden change in posture

It was not immediately clear why Patagonia made the decision given its statements on the blog earlier in the day in which it pledged to investigate PETA's allegations and report back on its findings before making a decision.  

In its blog entry, Patagonia goes on to recount how PETA's 2005 campaign against the practice of mulesing by Australian sheep farmers prompted Patagonia to seek out a new supply chain for merino wool. Mulesing involves removing wool, and often flesh, around the sheep's tail to prevent flystrike, a condition that can ruin the quality of wool.

Controversy over mulesing led Patagonia to begin sourcing merino wool from Argentina, where flystrike does not exist. In 2011, it also entered a close partnership with the Argentine company Ovis 21 to develop a new supply chain that  “regenerates rather than depletes grassland, keeps alive a way of life in the Patagonia region, and produces wool of unprecedented quality for our next-to-skin clothing.”

In its blog post, however, Patagonia said it never thought to audit animal welfare practices at Ovis 21's suppliers.

“We took some important steps to protect animals in partnering with Ovis 21, but we failed to implement a comprehensive process to assure animal welfare, and we are dismayed to witness such horrifying mistreatment,” the company stated in its more recent blog post.

Ovis 21 revokes ranches certification
In its own Aug. 15 statement, Ovis  confirmed that the footage was shot at a farm within its network in December 2014 and that it had revoked certification of the farm involved even though Ovis 21 only certifies for practices
and standards as they relate to grassland regeneration, flock improvement and
wool quality.

“Ovis 21 does not justify cruelty,” read the statement. “We regret not being informed when the footage was taken, to take immediate action.”

Patagonia also noted that in early 2014, it began working collaboratively with numerous other brands and the Textile Exchange to develop the forthcoming Responsible Wool Standard for treating sheep and lambs that meets 21st century moral standards for the ethical treatment of animals.

PETA, which does not believe in the use of animals for any human purpose, was invited by the Textile Exchange to join this process, but declined. The process did include the participation of other animal-welfare organizations.

PETA's report comes just one week after Patagonia announced a venture to produce buffalo jerky with the goal of promoting more sustainable ranching practices in the United States.

“We will work with Ovis 21 to make needed corrections and improvements, and report back to our customers and the public on the steps we will take,” the blog entry concluded. “We apologize for the harm done in our name. We will keep you posted.”