Concerned by the injustice for both humans and animals, animal protection group Humane Society International UK (HSI UK) has carried out extensive research, and is now launching a campaign alongside Lush, asking for crucial changes to the law.
Behind the fur trims being marketed as fake, are animals like raccoon dogs, foxes and rabbits; bred, raised, and killed in horrifying conditions. The production of this fur is so cheap, that it is now turning up on garments online and on the high street, and the consumer is often none the wiser.
Among the items HSI found for sale are £5 pom pom keychains made from rabbit fur; a parka with raccoon dog fur trim for £35; and a knitted hat with a marmot fur bobble for as little as £3.50.
Claire Bass, HSI UK’s executive director, says: “People have a misconception that real animal fur is some sort of luxury item, that it’s really expensive, but actually the grim reality is that life on fur farms is so cheap that real fur can be made more cheaply than fake fur.”
The price point, she warns, is not an indicator of whether fur is fake. Nor is the garment’s label, which legally does not have to list fur. For ethical consumers, this makes avoiding real fur a complicated task.
“The vast majority - 80 per cent-plus - of the British public are absolutely opposed to the abject cruelty caused by the fur trade and they want no part in it,” Claire says.
It is the cruelty of the fur trade that is making HSI so concerned about its secret return.
UK fur farming was banned by the Labour government in 2000 on morality grounds, and the last farm closed its doors in 2002. Since then, Britain has been importing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of fur from farms abroad.
Claire says: “We see a major disconnect there. If we consider fur farming too cruel to allow in our country, then why are we paying countries overseas to ship this product into the UK?”
Claire explains that on fur farms, animal welfare is an afterthought, and profit is the main driver. A tiny wire cage becomes home for the animals’ short lives. They are denied the chance to run free, are often fed on waste, and receive little veterinary care. Animals that would usually spend hours cleaning themselves in the wild are left in filthy conditions, and often end up mutilated. It all ends with a brutal death; before the fur trim that adorns a winter garment, comes electrocution, gassing, or even skinning alive.
Changing the law
HSI has launched a petition asking the UK government urgently to enact a more transparent labelling law, and ultimately to ban the import of fur into the UK.
Claire says: “The first thing we’d like the government to do is to introduce a mandatory fur labelling regulation, so that ethical consumers can make an informed choice and avoid real animal fur products.”
The next step is a total ban of the import of fur. If the UK leaves the single market when it leaves the EU, there will be an opportunity to turn the tide on the cruel fur trade. As fur is not produced in the UK, under World Trade Organisation rules the country should be allowed to ban the import of fur.
“The force of public opinion is absolutely with us and would support our call for a ban on the import of fur,” Claire says.
Alongside the petition, HSI is arming consumers with the tools to detect real fur for themselves.
Claire explains that the best way to tell is by parting the fur. Real animal fur will have skin at the base where the hair is attached, whereas fake fur will have a fabric mesh. Another clue is the ends of the hair strands, which will be blunt (like they have been cut) if they are fake. Real hair usually tapers to a point.
Claire says: “We’d also encourage consumers to be really vigilant when they’re out shopping. Everyone can be a fake faux fur detective, and using the guide on our website they can tell the difference between real and fake fur, and report to us items they’re concerned about as well as informing trading standards.”
If consumers uncover what they believe to be real fur mis-sold as faux, HSI encourages them to take it up with the retailer, who may be unaware. If the problem is not resolved, Claire advises visiting Trading Standards, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or contacting HSI directly.
Fur free Britain
As campaigning organisations such as Lynx and individuals dedicated time and effort to anti-fur campaigning from the 1970s and through the ‘90s, their concerted efforts ultimately changed the face of fashion in making it unacceptable to wear fur. The result was a government ban of fur farming in the UK.
In the years following the UK ban, EU laws were introduced that made it illegal to import cat fur, dog fur, and seal fur from commercial seal hunts.
Animal groups do not just campaign from the outside, but also negotiate with retailers and designers to end the era of fur. The Humane Society of the Unites States, HSI’s US affiliate, has been a driving force behind many major designers ending their use of fur. Gucci recently pledged to go fur-free from 2018, joining other luxury fashion designers like Armani and Yoox Net-a-Porter. Some designers, such as Stella McCartney, have always been fur-free.
Fur laws are decided at national level, and so policies across the EU vary, with many countries still allowing fur farming. However, there is a growing list of countries banning the practice. The Czech Republic became the latest, sparing 20,000 foxes and mink every year according to HSI. Check out HSI’s guide to fur bans across the globe.
The UK has led the way in the fight against fur. Further laws, strengthening the UK’s position against fur, could set an example for the rest of the world. Fur-free Britain is not here yet, and now it is up to the people to make their voices heard once again.
You can sign the petition here.
Main picture: Jo-Anne McArthur / The Ghosts In Our Machine