By Anna Griffin, Editor in Chief
As former president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), author of The Bond and The Humane Economy, and founder of Animal Wellness Action, Wayne Pacelle, has dedicated his career to advocate for the humane treatment of animals. Now, as founder and president of the Center for a Humane Economy, Pacelle’s crusade is in influencing business across different economic sectors that affect animal welfare. The Center’s latest campaign, Kangaroos Are Not Shoes, has been created with a mission to stop the slaughter of millions of kangaroos in their native environment, and secure a commitment from athletic shoe companies to rid their supply chain of kangaroo skins.
Tell us about the Center for a Humane Economy’s latest campaign, Kangaroos Are Not Shoes.
According to one scientist from Queensland, the fires that engulfed Australia killed more than a billion animals. That's millions of kangaroos, countless koalas and dingoes, and all the other remarkable and distinctive wildlife of Australia.
I had known about the exploitation of kangaroos by private commercial hunters and the government, but I wasn't exactly clear in my mind what the scale was. I looked into it and began to understand that private commercial interest, with the blessing of Australia’s states and its federal government, kills more than two million kangaroos a year mainly for their skins, which are going into athletic shoes, mostly into soccer cleats. Soccer is the most popular sport practiced all over the world, and you think of these companies with literally such a big global footprint like Nike and Adidas. Just a relatively modest percentage of their total sales mean that they're killing a couple of million kangaroos. We have alternative fabrics, we have imitation kangaroo leather, we've got other synthetic products, and these companies have already made a shift for their tennis shoes, running shoes, and golf and football shoes. They're using kangaroo skins for soccer cleats, and it’s totally unnecessary.
The iconic species of Australia is being killed by the millions every year, and many of those adults are females with the baby kangaroos, the joeys, in their pouches. It's estimated that they kill, just as a collateral effect of the slaughter of the adults, 400,000 joeys, so to me this was something that I could not tolerate. I told my team that we're going to launch a global campaign called Kangaroos Are Not Shoes, and we're going to take kangaroo skins out of the supply chains for Nike, New Balance, Adidas, Puma and all the other big companies that sell us footwear.
We've all purchased athletic shoes from these companies. If we asked ourselves if we would make a conscious choice to purchase products from slain kangaroos if the companies could make something else, nine out of ten of us, in a reflex, would of course choose something else.
Having seen kangaroos up close and personal, it’s a breathtaking experience, and unbelievable to think that this icon of Australia is being slaughtered by the millions. What are some of the elements of your campaign for Kangaroos Are Not Shoes?
We have created a dedicated website, a multi-dimensional campaign, and we're going to be rolling out some really big elements to stop the biggest slaughter of native wildlife in their natural habitat, in the world.
California has banned the sale of kangaroo parts, and we have been undertaking a month-long investigation to determine how retailers are adhering to the law. Sadly we found that there is broad disobedience, not because of any principledposition, but surely for profit. We will soon be announcing this and giving the full report to the California Attorney General, to the Director of the Department of Fish & Game, which enforces fish and wildlife laws, and to county prosecutors and district attorneys who can make cases. That’s one element.
We're also going to be introducing national legislation to Congress, to ban the import and sale of kangaroo parts, which will be called the Kangaroo Protection Act. We’re partnering with groups and are going to be fighting this campaign all over the world, because these shoe companies have commerce that is conducted all over the world. Those are just a few things, but we’ll also be enlisting Olympic gold medal winners and other sports stars to say, “Hey, I care about what's on my feet for performance, but I don't want to do something that's at odds with my value system. I don't want to kill an animal when I have an opportunity to have a synthetic product or a plant based fiber that suits all of my athletic needs.”
How are some of the ways the general public can get involved in supporting this?
We have a number of things that people can do. Number one, the most important thing is to not buy shoes that come from kangaroos, because Nike, Adidas, and the other companies, will stop selling the product if there's a revolt among consumers. If they realize that this puts a halt to sales, they won't sell it. Right now people just don't know; they have no clue that kangaroos are killed to the tune of two million plus a year, for soccer cleats.
The second thing they can do is to get politically involved with us. Contact their lawmakers to demand a national legislation in the United States. Enlist kids, soccer clubs and teams, and write a letter to Nike on behalf of their soccer club, saying they don't want anything to do with a company that is victimizing native wildlife.
The most important, enduring thing is for people to become part of the Center for a Humane Economy, because as we win the campaigns, they are going to evolve. They can go to our website and become part of the army, so they can then have a role in a rolling set of campaigns that are going to deliver change for animals. Whether it's FDA modernization to eliminate animal tests, or changing confinement agriculture toward a more extensive agriculture system in the United States, whatever those set of campaigns are - and we've got a bunch - we want people to join with us.
Is that anything else we should know? Anything more we can all do?
I only want to underscore that people have more power than they know. We all think the system is so big and it's unshakeable, but I've seen time and time again that individuals can make a difference, with lifestyle choices, political advocacy, social platforms, and the ability to reach people in their universe.
The only way that change is going to happen is if everybody participates. It can’t be left to you and me. It's got to be a decision by many people in the community to make change for the world, and I really hope that if I do anything in the world of animal advocacy, it’s to empower others to take action. We all have a role to play. It's not that you hand this responsibility to somebody else. It rests with each of us.