Gap in the hot seat over horrifying animal rights video

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An investigation conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has revealed flat-out cruelty in the practice of harvesting angora fur. Now PETA is targeting Gap, a San Francisco-based clothing retailer, with a call for it to ban the sale of angora products altogether.

On Dec. 16, PETA aired an online video chronicling the disturbing process by which the popular sweater material, angora, is harvested from rabbits kept in cages in Chinese angora farms. The disturbing video was accompanied by a petition calling on Gap to ban angora sales. With two days, the retailer had responded by suspending its orders for angora, but the animal rights organization was still calling for an outright ban.

Angora is a soft, relatively durable sweater material that's less expensive than cashmere, and it is possible to harvest it without causing injury to animal, but the vast majority of suppliers do not use humane methods. Roughly 90 percent of the world's angora comes from suppliers in China, according to PETA, where facilities exposed by an undercover PETA investigation use a violent method of harvesting the rabbit fur with no regard for the pain and suffering it causes.

PETA's initial post on Monday contained a disturbing video chronicling the investigation and the methods used by third party farms to harvest angora. Two days later, Gap posted this Tweet:

"We appreciate that this issue has been raised, and we share the concerns expressed by our customers about the treatment of angora rabbits. Ensuring the fair and humane treatment of animals has been part of our brand's history, and we're committed to seeking to ensure that our policies and procedures are adhered to as products are created.
 
Over the last number of days, we've looked carefully at the issue, and Gap is immediately suspending orders for products made with angora. We require that vendors contracted to make our product adhere to our ethical sourcing requirements that include the humane treatment of animals. We understand the importance of this issue and will work with others to advocate for lasting improvements."

Gap isn't the only company to purchase angora from ethically questionable producers. Many companies used the material, but retailers like H&M — who announced a company-wide angora ban on Fri/20 — and Phillips-Van Huesen (owner of clothing companies Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, among others), pulled their angora products immediately after PETA showed them the video.

When PETA initially showed Gap the same video, however, it was slow to respond, prompting PETA to make Gap the focus of its media campaign. Now that Gap has agreed to suspend its angora purchases, PETA continues to pressure the company to impose an outright ban on the sale of these products.

The video, which is difficult to watch, shows the standard practice by which the angora farmers exposed by PETA acquire the fur. The rabbits are tied down, screaming, while the farmworkers painfully and forcibly remove the tiny animals' fur. After the ostensibly unsanitary and violent process, the rabbits are literally tossed back into tiny, filthy cages looking more like meat than living creatures.

But even after the recent publicity, a depressing question remains: What is to happen to the rabbits still at those angora farms?

As things stand, Chinese law does very little to prevent cruelty at these factories. The farms supply 90 percent of the world's angora, according to PETA, so even after the loss of major customers such as Gap, H&M, and Phillips-Van Huesen, they will likely continue operating.

"There are no laws protecting the animals on those farms, there are no penalties for abusing those animals," said PETA spokesperson Ashley Byrne. "So really there isn't some legal precedent in China for those farms to be shut down."

The only way to combat angora fur farms, according to Byrne, is to not buy the products.

"The most effective way to stop the kind of cruelty that people can see in this angora video is to simply stop buying it," she said, "and to stop supporting this industry. Whether a label says one percent angora or 100 percent angora," said Byrne, "The price paid by the animal is too high."