Merino sheep on a pasture

Cruel wool in sportswear is in high season

New FOUR PAWS report reveals market leader Nike lagging behind competitors on animal welfare


11 April 2022 – New report, “Sweating the Details: The use of merino wool in sportswear” published by global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, investigates the use of mulesed wool by the ten largest sportswear brands. The report focused on the market leaders Nike, Adidas and Puma which, combined, make up a third of the sportswear industry’s market value.

Nike, as the world's largest sportswear manufacturer, stands out in the report lagging behind its two biggest competitors Puma and Adidas in terms of animal welfare, as both brands have already made plans to switch to certified mulesing-free wool (2025 and 2030 respectively). 

FOUR PAWS calls on Nike to take this important step and align with consumer expectations towards greater animal welfare.

The report found that merino wool is increasingly used not only in thermal underwear but also in active wear, yoga pants, sports bras, cycling shorts, and running shirts, due to its unique characteristics: breathable, elastic, antimicrobial, and thermoregulating. 

What many consumers don't know is that these are often uncertified and therefore, it is very likely to come from cruel origins where mulesing is used. Mulesing is a mutilation practiced on millions of lambs, only a few weeks old, although pain-free alternatives have long been available.   

Because of wool's increasing popularity in sportswear, there is an urgent need to increase animal welfare responsibility in supply chains.

"Nike claims to support mulesing-free wool, but so far has not taken any concrete action to exclude its use.

We have tried to contact the company several times. Unfortunately, there has been no response to our questions about the country of origin of the wool and measures to exclude mulesing. We therefore call on Nike to reliably exclude animal cruelty methods in their supply chain by committing to certified mulesing-free wool. This will have a huge impact on millions of lambs, saving them from severe pain."

Rebecca Picallo Gil, head of the wool campaign at FOUR PAWS

FOUR PAWS Report on Wool in Global Sportswear

FOUR PAWS Report on Wool in Global Sportswear

Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS investigated the use of wool by the ten largest sportswear brands, focusing on the market leaders – Nike, Adidas, and Puma – who, combined, make up over a third of the industry’s market value. Both, Adidas and Puma have already set public targets for a mulesed-wool-free future while Nike has not.

Mulesing, a systemic problem

FOUR PAWS has commissioned an independent laboratory in the UK to examine wool samples from various companies. The Australian wool industry, by far the world's largest producer (80%) of fine merino wool, specifies that in order to qualify as typical Australian “fine merino”, wool fibres must not fall above a maximum mean diameter of 22 microns. All samples had a mean diameter below 22 microns, which strongly suggests that the merino products contain Australian merino. When full supply chain traceability is not practiced and with only 14 per cent of Australian wool free of mulesing, the risks and welfare issue are obvious.

"The problem of mulesing is not an isolated case, but an industry problem. Nike, as a global leader, has an opportunity here to take a strong stance on animal welfare and get the industry to rethink quickly," said Picallo Gil.

Global shift away from mulesed wool

FOUR PAWS has been campaigning for an end to the cruel mulesing procedure for years. In 2021, more than 30 global fashion brands wrote an open letter to the Australian wool industry to end mulesing, and over 300 global brands are listed on the FOUR PAWS' Brands Against Mulesing list.

Australia is the only country in the world where the method of mulesing is still practiced. Mulesing involves cutting out large chunks of skin from two to ten-week-old lambs with sharp scissors, often without anaesthesia. For the lambs, this means fear and stress, but above all great pain that can last for days. There have long been alternatives to mulesing, such as switching to sheep breeds that are less susceptible to flystrike.

Over 3,000 Australian wool growers are mulesing-free, and various wool assurance schemes can reliably exclude mulesed wool. Further, Australian Wool Innovation has announced plans to develop tools to increase wool growers’ confidence and ability to manage flystrike without mulesing by 2030.

Sweating the Details: The use of merino wool in sportswear 

Keen to know more? In 2020, independent report Towards a Non-Mulesed Future by socioeconomic consulting firm BG Economics highlighted the success experienced by wool producers across the country using genetics to battle flystrike, instead of mulesing. View report summary and download here. 

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Elise Burgess

Elise Burgess

Head of Communications

M: 0423 873 382

FOUR PAWS Australia
GPO Box 2845 

Main Phone: 1800 454 228

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.

Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.

With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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