Hoaxes & Rumors

Animal Cruelty and Uggs: Real or Hoax?

This is part of the "Ugly Side of Uggs" graphic which has circulated on social media.
Animal Cruelty and Uggs: Real or Hoax?
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A graphic circulating claims that sheep are castrated, have their tails cut off, and are killed in the manufacturing of Ugg boots. Is this true or a hoax?

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Online Claim

First let’s take a look at the graphic that is circulating through social media. The graphic reads, “THE UGLY SIDE OF UGGS Sheep used for wool are routinely castrated, have their tails cut off (without painkillers) and throats slit for a pair of UGG Australia boots, a wool sweater, or jacket.”

Accompanying the claim are two graphic pictures of confined sheep that have had their tails cut off.

History

Uggs are a brand of sheepskin boots that have existed since the late 70s. In 1995, the brand was bought out by Deckers Outdoor Corp., and they currently remain the parent company of Ugg. In the early to mid 2000s, the boots became fashionable after being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the trendy footwear began to be witnessed on the feet of many celebrities.

Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson, who initially helped to popularize Uggs, embarked on a publicized boycott of the boots in 2007 due to concerns about animal welfare. Her public boycott was featured on people.com and in a Fox News article.

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The recent claims seen in the circulating graphic likely began on November 13th of 2013 with an article entitled “UGGs and Their ‘Uggly’ Reputation” which was published by Yahoo Small Business.

A similar claim has been posted on the website of the organization known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Since then, the graphic has continued to circulate via social media.

Uggs Responds to Criticisms

Over the years, the Uggs brand and Deckers Outdoor Corp. has released a number of statements outlining their stance on animal welfare.

Five days after the release of the controversial Yahoo article, Uggs released a statement about their sheepskin on Facebook, which has since been removed. The statement is quoted below:

At UGG, we want consumers to know about the sheepskin used in our products. We are among the leaders in ethical supply chain for consumer goods, and particularly the sourcing of sheepskin. UGG does not use sheepskin unless it is a byproduct of the meat industry, and we actively condemn the practice of mulesing.

A link to a page on animal welfare from Deckers Outdoor Corp. is also included with the statement. Visiting this page reveals more detailed information on their practices which includes the kinds of animals hides they permit and the sourcing requirements for those hides. Below are several quotes taken from the page:

  • “We ONLY use Animal Hides that are the byproduct of another industry and that are not raised exclusively for their pelts.”
  • “Suppliers must source Animal Hides from processors that use sound animal husbandry and humane animal treatment and slaughtering practices.”
  • “No animals may be skinned alive to provide our Animal Hides.”
  • “We support efforts to end the practice of mulesing by requiring our animal hide suppliers to certify that they do not supply any materials or products to Deckers from sheep which have been mulesed.”
  • “We do not source 100% Merino wool from Australia, due to the practice of mulesing by some farmers in the region.”
  • “Sheepskin will not be sourced from countries in the Middle East and North Africa.”

At some point, the “UGGs and Their ‘Uggly’ Reputation” article posted on Yahoo was removed. Although the article is no longer available, one can follow a link to where the article was, and there is a comment there which reads:

Editor’s note: It has been brought to our attention that the article that was originally located here was inaccurate and misleading. We looked into the information in conjunction with our content partner Business 2 Community and found that this was in fact the case and have removed the article. The article does not represent the views of Business 2 Community.

Sheep Welfare Regulations

As it turns out, many sheep kept for their wool, skins, and meat are castrated and docked (the process of removing their tails) prior to being slaughtered. This is said to be performed for the welfare of the livestock, and is a debatable necessary evil in relation to public demand for products derived from sheep.

Some countries have regulations on how sheep should be castrated and docked. For example, the United Kingdom maintains a webpage on sheep/goat welfare regulations that discusses policies on castration/docking. Here is what the regulations say:

If possible, tail docking should be avoided. This practice is only acceptable when not doing it will cause welfare problems relating to dirty tails and fly strike. This must be done by a competent person and sufficient tail must be retained to cover the sheep’s anus or vulva.

Castration should only be carried out where lambs will be kept beyond sexual maturity and it’s necessary to avoid welfare problems associated with managing entire males. Because of the risk of mis-mothering – which can lead to starvation – it shouldn’t be performed until the bond between ewe and lamb is established.

Castration should only be performed by a trained and competent person. The use of a rubber ring, or other device, to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum – or tail – is only permitted without an anaesthetic if applied during the first week of life. Once a lamb reaches three months, castration must be carried out under anaesthetic by a vet.

If both tail docking and castration are necessary, performing both operations at the same time can minimise distress and the risk of mis-mothering.

One science study from 1994 showed evidence that docking significantly reduced mortality in young sheep kept as livestock.

Nevertheless, sheep castration and docking is viewed as a somewhat controversial practice. In July of 2008, the Daily Mail featured an article in which government experts for the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) condemned the practices of sheep castration and docking.

Fake Uggs

Another issue compounding the matter is the manufacturing and selling of counterfeit Uggs. This a massive and widespread problem involving terrorist and gang groups who sell the fake products with no regard for animal welfare. According to the official Australian website of Uggs,  60,000 websites have been shutdown claiming to be associated with Ugg, and over a million counterfeit Ugg products were confiscated by law enforcement from 2011-2014. These counterfeit products are often sold for a lower price-tag than official Ugg products.

In fall of 2011, the Huffington Post featured an article on counterfeit Ugg products. The article claims that some fake Ugg products are manufactured under horrid conditions in which animals such as dogs are skinned alive for their pelts.

Counterfeit Uggs are constructed from the furs and skins of a variety of animals, and the animal welfare conditions are completely unregulated.

Bottom Line

From the evidence gathered, it seems that Ugg has been singled out by animal welfare activists on the issue of sheep castration and docking. Ugg claims to only use sheepskin which are a byproduct of the meat industry, and they have publicly condemned mulesing (which appears to be the same as docking/tail removal). Ugg and Deckers Outdoor Corp. have expressed concern about animal welfare, and they require their sheepskin suppliers to certify that their sheep are not mulesed/docked. Therefore, the circulating graphic and claims are probably misleading, if not outright untrue.

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