Why it matters where your down comes from
In 2009 we launched the DOWN CODEX®, setting out five key rules that would embrace a range of animal welfare, environmental
and ethical issues that we wanted our down supply chain to meet.
DOWN CODEX® is more than just an auditing standard; it is helping to direct our entire approach to developing better down products. Rather than relying on written guarantees or self-certification by suppliers it requires each and every source that we use, to be independently audited and assessed through a process of site inspections, face-to-face interviews and document checks. Only in this way are we able to safely establish chains of custody.
Any supplier wishing to work with Mountain Equipment must accept the terms of our DOWN CODEX® and be willing to grant access for our representatives to audit all parts of their supply chain – from pre-processors to slaughterhouses, and from slaughterhouses to farms.
Audits are carried out on our behalf by the International Down & Feather Laboratory (IDFL). They are an established and independent global test and auditing house that have worked with Mountain Equipment from the beginning to develop our auditing standards.
Audits take place at least every three years and the results of each audit are then published showing the level of risk deemed to exist, alongside a down quality report which is unique to every batch of down we purchase.
Should any supplier fail an audit or any part of the supply chain be found to have standards below that deemed to be acceptable, then they have six months to put in place corrective measures before being re-audited. If the level of risk hasn’t fallen significantly they will be excluded from the supply chain.
Every DOWN CODEX® product features a twelve digit code. This is clearly visible on the inside label. Typing this code into our website allows consumers to view these reports and make an informed decision before purchasing. The DOWN CODEX® web address is www.thedowncodex.com
Another first for Mountain Equipment
Richard Talbot, Director of Product at Mountain Equipment, has been instrumental in driving the development of DOWN CODEX® project right from the start.
Mountain Equipment has throughout its fifty year history committed a great deal of time and effort into ensuring we consistently obtain the very best qualities of down for use in our sleeping bags and clothing. Five years ago we started paying as much attention to the environmental, ethical and animal welfare concerns associated with using down.
There is a risk that down can come from birds that have been live plucked, force fed or kept in bad conditions. We had always used down for function rather than fashion – by and large products were used in serious or extreme conditions. There was no viable alternative to down, so we needed to ensure ours came from the best sources. And so in 2009 we began a project that would become known as the DOWN CODEX®. We thought we had good knowledge of our supply chain, but couldn’t demonstrate it. We recognised that the practices of live plucking and forcefeeding were unacceptable but knew little else about the wider welfare issues associated with farming waterfowl. In the absence of any viable synthetic alternatives we wanted to continue to make the very best down clothing and sleeping bags we could.
So to begin with, DOWN CODEX® began by attempting to prove assumptions we had about our supply chain. And it started almost immediately with on-the-ground audits and site inspections – visits to slaughterhouses, down processors and farms, face-to-face interviews, photographs, audits of paper-trails and official records. We had no complex auditing standard or established method. The challenge was to learn as we went along, constantly adapting and evolving our approach. Very few, if any, other brands had really done anything like this before. There was no benchmark to aim for and no proven path to follow.
We had appointed the International Down & Feather Laboratory (IDFL) to be our ‘eyes on the ground’. However, even though they were experts in assessing down and testing its quality they had very little experience in auditing the supply chain beyond wholesalers. They were however, truly independent and keen to work with us. Crucially they had key relationships within our supply chains and could build trust with those parties that were wary of our motives and treated any approach with caution.
From the first audit in 2010 we have gone on to conduct audits every year since, in countries from China and Taiwan, to Ukraine and most recently Russia and Germany. Both the subjects and methods of auditing have evolved. There have been many important lessons learned, and we have been at the forefront of documenting an industry that prior to 2009 was in the dark and largely preferred to remain mysterious. We have gradually introduced a framework for our audits, to the extent that other major international outdoor brands have approached us to share our experiences.
After five years we are on the edge of every down product range passin
g at least one audit. The remaining isolated products that we have been unable to include in the DOWN CODEX® are being phased out. We’ve reduced our supply base, dropping a supplier when audit standards were failed. And now we are working on a revised and even more rigorous system that goes into trials next year.
This was always going to be a journey rather than a destination. It is a constantly evolving process where we, working in partnership with suppliers and the IDFL seek to understand and manage the risk involved in a complex and ever changing supply chain.
The DOWN CODEX® is unlikely to ever be able to provide a cast-iron guarantee. What it has achieved is clarity and new lines of communication. And by engaging with the concerns of our consumers and reflecting them to suppliers we have increased awareness and expectations amongst farms, slaughterhouses and processors. In that sense we are at the end of the first stage. And refining a process rather than pioneering is certainly more efficient and we would like to think another first for Mountain Equipment.
How the audit works
We have developed a partnership scheme with the International Down & Feather Laboratory. We chose them for three reasons:
1. The IDFL are experts in the down supply chain and understand our industry. It is in their interest to come up with a robust method of making sure the supply chain is open and transparent.
2. They are independent both from our suppliers and ourselves and have no interest in favouring or protecting any individual supplier or groups of suppliers.
3. With offices in Europe, USA and China, they are truly international. Most importantly the IDFL have Chinese staff who have been vital in getting access to the farms in rural China. For each area that they audit, IDFL apply our set of rules to check that it meets the DOWN CODEX® standard. The initial audit for each area requires a certain amount of trust to be established between Mountain Equipment, IDFL and the down supplier. As down is often sourced through a network of dealers and wholesalers this trust is key to obtaining an effective audit as it is essential to trace the supply chain all the way back to the original farms where the ducks and geese are raised.
If the supplier fails the audit, the results will be discussed with them and a plan put in place to see if corrective action is possible. If corrective action is not possible we will stop buying down from that supplier. If for any reason it proves impossible to carry out an audit or the supplier refuses to give us access to the original farms we will again exclude them from the supply chain. Generally we will need to find an alternative source of down that meets our stringent quality requirements before we can change supplier, we will begin this process without delay and it should not take longer than six months.
Whilst it’s not possible to change everything overnight, we have spent the last five years roductively.
We have worked hard with suppliers to understand everything there is to know about the down supply chain, so that we can take steps to improve it wherever possible.
The range of rules and commitments contained within the DOWN CODEX® gives us the most comprehensive and transparent auditing mechanism to ensure that we have the most ethical, traceable and transparent down supply chain in the outdoor industry anywhere in the world.
“What it has achieved is clarity and new lines of communication”
The three stages of DOWN CODEX®
Stage 1: Our rules & commitments
Mountain Equipment will continue to obtain the very best qualities of down from a variety of sources across the world. All of the down we use should be a by-product of food production and be obtained after birds have been humanely slaughtered. There should be no live plucking, or live harvesting of down. No birds should be force-fed during the fattening process before slaughter.
The birds should be kept in good conditions and raised to high welfare standards appropriate for ducks and geese. They should be free to roam compounds and have barns to shelter in with good access to fresh water and natural food. Stocking densities, i.e. how many birds per square metre, should be lower than recommended maximums.
Every batch of down that we buy should be tested for cleanliness, composition and fill power. Independent testing should be carried out by the IDFL and all fill power tests should be measured and stated according to the International IDFB Lorch cylinder method.
Stage 2: Communication with our suppliers
Every one of these rules and commitments has been communicated to all of our suppliers. Our suppliers now understand that should they wish to continue to supply us, they must comply.
Stage 3: The Auditing & Traceability System
Our auditing process uses a third party to check that what we are being told about our down supply is actually true and that suppliers adhere to our rules and meet our commitments.
The audit seeks to investigate every stage of our down supply chain, including wholesalers, sorting houses, slaughterhouses and individual farms where the birds are raised.
Using this information it should be possible to accurately trace each and every individual batch of down we use. Nearly every one of our down products now carries a twelve digit code that will allow our customers to trace the down used in their actual clothing or bag via the
To read more and trace your Mountain Equipment Down product head to - www.thedowncodex.com