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ORTOVOX | Alastair Bett

Happy sheep, happy customers

28.7.2020

How the mountain sports company ORTOVOX combines animal welfare and business success

Behind many clothing items there is great animal suffering due to the cruel practice of mulesing. The German mountain sports company ORTOVOX shows that there is another way – We spoke to the CSR managers Katrin Bauer and Stefanie Rieder-Haas.

The company has made it its corporate principle to operate successfully by paying attention to animal welfare at the same time. This makes sense, of course, since the animals provide the material out of which the products offered for sale are made.

When it comes to clothing, (Merino) sheep are the most important suppliers. More than ten years ago the company already made sure that merino wool used in ORTOVOX products is mulesed-free – especially as the company had been using Australian merino wool for a long time. This was long before the topic of mulesing became known to the end consumer.

A look behind the designation ‘mulesed-free’

ORTOVOX wanted to understand better and asked itself why there is mulesed-free wool at all. Therefore, the company took a close look at the complex supply chain, which is widely ramified and the company using the wool seldom knows where it comes from. Every question ORTOVOX asked resulted in five new ones that needed to be answered: Why are there farmers who do not mules? Why are there farmers who say there is no way around it? Why do other companies say that there is not enough mulesed-free wool to buy? Why do so many companies not know where their wool comes from? What exactly does a wool supply chain look like? What exactly is a happy sheep?

ORTOVOX wanted to establish personal relationships and contacts on the spot instead of simply outsourcing the ordering of the material. They wanted to keep control over what was actually delivered. Through this close contact with all parties along the supply chain and working with farmers who have switched to mulesed-free, it can be ensured that ORTOVOX really only sells mulesed-free products. Merino sheep in Australia have been overbred for 100 years. Farmers who supply ORTOVOX have re-bred their herd. They have therefore switched to sheep that are more resistant to fly maggot infestation, which makes mulesing unnecessary.

This is also the reason why ORTOVOX WOOL PROMISE has been developed: Supported in particular by the efforts of so many other organisations that have been working for animal welfare for a long time, ORTOVOX acts as a link between many parties that do not normally come together. The farmer and the animal welfare organisation, the customer and the producer.

ORTOVOX | Alastair Bett

Change from within

"During one of our Tasmania trips, the farmers invited us to the so-called 'lamb marking', one of the most critical moments in the life of a sheep, where lambs are vaccinated and if necessary castrated. What may sound like a banal event here is to be understood by those with more expert knowledge as an immense vote of confidence." Farmers, too, are constantly looking for improvements in animal welfare beyond the exclusion of mulesing. For example, one of the farmers questioned himself whether punched ear marking of the sheep is really still necessary despite further marking and admitted to himself that changing the tradition is the real issue. Since then, this procedure has no longer been practiced for the benefit of the sheep.

Change means to recognize oneself and to have the courage to do things differently and also better. Here every single actor in the wool supply chain is challenged:

  • The farmer who changes after generations and stops the practice of mulesing.
  • The company that invests time, money, but above all heart and soul in its products and the personal relationships behind them.
  • The customers who recognise their responsibility and are prepared to pay a higher price for a high-quality, more animal-friendly product because they take the effort to understand how complex the interrelationships are and that it takes every single participant, whether manufacturer or user, to move sustainability forward.

These people and many others are all doing their part to make change for the better. Recognizing this and having the courage to act on it is probably the secret to achieving improvements in the world.

A sheep that is not mulesed is currently being treated with certain chemicals to protect it from flies in particularly sensitive phases. This required a rethink, and the associated re-breeding of breeds takes time. We all keep learning and know that there will never be a final arrival at the ideal state.

ORTOVOX wants to achieve further positive changes for their most important suppliers – the sheep – also in the future. With the increasing popularity of wool, the subject of animal welfare is also more present in the public eye again. We need success stories like this one and those of the other players in the supply chain who set a good example.

The opinions shared in these interviews reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the position of FOUR PAWS.

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