When U.S.-based New Balance informed the Center for a Humane Economy (the Center) days ago that it will phase out kangaroo skins in its supply chain, it was one more big moment in our efforts to protect Australia’s iconic mammals. Since the launch of our Kangaroos Are Not Shoes campaign in 2020, four of the five biggest global athletic-shoe brands have pledged to stop sourcing kangaroo skins for athletic shoes: New Balance and Nike, based in the United States; Puma, headquartered in Germany; and Diadora, located in Italy.
Adidas remains the outlier among the five big names. Among all the major athletic-shot brands, Adidas has for decades been the biggest corporate apologist and advocate for kangaroo slaughter — lobbying, politicking, and stonewalling to keep the annual body count high.
What’s been the consequence of making soccer cleats with kangaroo skins? Last year, commercial shooters killed more than 1 million adult kangaroos in their native habitats in Australia. Then, add in at least 300,000 joeys — orphans unable to survive without their moms — as collateral damage.
“There’s just no good reason to slaughter adult kangaroos and their joeys for a product that is made better with other fabrics,” said Emma Hurst, a Member of Parliament (MP) in New South Wales, who visited Washington D.C. recently to join me in lobbying Congress to take up the Kangaroo Protection Act, which bans any imports or U.S. trade in parts of the marsupials. “We applaud the Center for a Humane Economy for its relentless campaign to halt the global trade that is producing daily massacres of an iconic animal and ambassadors of our nation.” She was joined here in the United States by Georgie Purcell, an MP in the state of Victoria and member of the Animal Justice Party.
Commercial Slaughter of Wildlife Can No Longer Stand the Spotlight
Slaying wild animals for commerce has hardly been a novel human enterprise, but it has been in decline during the past century. More than a century ago, Americans killed millions of birds for hats for the millinery trade. That ended when the United States clamped down on commercial slaughter of wildlife for markets for a range of adornments.
In the 1920s, President Herbert Hoover signed a bill into law to bar imports of the skins of koalas — to spare the slow-moving arboreal mammals from massive slaughter for some other replaceable type of fashion. In more contemporary times, the United States has clamped down on the trade in ivory, rhino horn, and shark fins, and the Center is asking the United States to cut off the bear parts trade fueled by demand for bear bile used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The United States was at the center of commercial whaling for hundreds of years, but no longer. Only a handful of nations persist in killing these leviathans. And Canada’s infamous killing of baby seals is widely reviled, with sealers for centuries turning ice floes red as they wielded hakapiks without mercy in an open-air nursery. The good news is, the kill is trending downward, from 300,000 annually in the 1990s to perhaps just 20,000 annually today.
While the mother seals watch helpless and in horror as the sealers kill their young, in Australia it’s the reverse: the adults are targets, and it’s the babies who grieve for their slain mothers.
In the early 1970s, the United States also stopped importing seal skins, and it’s time for the United States to do the same with the trade in kangaroo parts. The newly introduced Kangaroo Protection Act, H.R. 4995, by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., gives our country the legislative vehicle it needs.
Australia’s Government and Adidas Work to Preserve Kangaroo Killing
In an astonishing denial of reality, Australia claims the hunt is “sustainable” and “humane” even though the shooters wipe out entire family groups, bashing in the skulls of the orphans they chase down. But Australia’s geographic isolation is no longer an antidote to public comprehension of what transpires in the Outback. Pictures and videos posted on the web and on social media platforms bring home the mercilessness of it all, for a product nobody needs.
The Australian government’s baseless argument that kangaroos — uniquely adapted to Australia’s landscape after 15 million years of habitation — need to be killed to avoid starvation is as hollow as Canada’s efforts to say that seals destroyed the North Atlantic cod fishery. Any fair reading of the cod collapse shows it was rapacious fishing fleets that brought the animals to commercial extinction, not the predators who evolved with their prey.
Indeed, keeping the commercial slaughter in place has required dogged work from government flaks in Australia, but also from Adidas, which not only has been the biggest consumer of kangaroo skins but also its most vocal private booster.
For decades, Adidas fought California’s law, passed in 1971, to ban the trade in any kangaroo parts. With Adidas leading the charge in subsequent years to punch holes in the law with a lobbying campaign, the statute’s prohibitions seesawed back and forth — with prohibitions in place and then relaxed and then tightened again. At one point, more than 25 years ago, Adidas sued the state to invalidate the law, arguing that California’s ban on selling kangaroo skins was preempted by federal law. In 2007, all seven judges on the California Supreme Court shot down Adidas’s claims that federal law preempted California’s law.
After that ruling, Adidas rededicated itself to overturning the law at the state capitol. But in 2016, that effort crashed and burned for the final time. The anti-wildlife-trade law has been firmly in place, and the Center itself has been dogged in promoting its enforcement.
And now the momentum is with us, with the federal legislation and a half dozen states seeking to replicate California’s law. The number of states eyeing this kind of change may double in 2024, with the prospect of Adidas facing a patchwork of state laws restricting trade in its shoes.
Not Even Australia’s Forest Fires Stirred the Conscience of Adidas
The world watched with pity and shock as fires killed millions of kangaroos just three years ago. Concerned citizens across the globe donated to help the people and the animals, including care for burned and orphaned animals, especially for kangaroos and koalas.
If it was a moral problem for the kangaroos to be burned in a conflagration, isn’t it also a problem for the kangaroos to go down in a torrent of gunfire? Perhaps the shooting, which runs day after day, is even worse, with its clockwork schedule and premeditation.
In an era where the adoption of corporate responsibility principles is as central to business operations as having a human resources or accounting staff, Adidas has posted high-minded rhetoric on its website about sustainability and even dabbled with animal welfare commitments. “Sport is about the constant pursuit of better,” reads a company mantra. “Material innovation is no different.”
But could anything ring more hollow when the company is tied to a trade that snuffs out 1.3 million animals a year? Is that the “pursuit of better”? Remember this is a global brand that rewards itself with virtue points for “sustainable” practices while ignoring rank and unmistakable cruelty that it abets every day of the week.
Adidas’s rationalizations are breaking down as the company now stands alone among major athletic shoe brands on its kangaroo policy. The center of gravity in the athletic-shoe industry has shifted, with the important announcements this year from Puma, Nike, and New Balance in 2023. The question is, when will Adidas finally divorce itself from the mass killings of animals who need their skins much more than the company ever has?
More information on the campaign is available at www.animalwellnessaction.org and www.centerforahumaneeconomy.org. You can take action here by letting Adidas know directly that you want them to stop killing kangaroos for shoes.
And if you’re able, would you consider making a contribution to allow us to work to spare kangaroos from these merciless assaults?
Wayne Pacelle is president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.