Animal rights group PETA has withdrawn its support for the Textile Exchange's Responsible Down Standard (RDS) International Working Group (IWG) Charter over what it says is the group's "secrecy" and failure to protect animals.

PETA says it made the decision after learning the IWG requires a confidentiality agreement and allows discussions to be off the record. In a letter to the Textile Exchange yesterday (15 February), and "dozens" of global retailers who sit on the IWG, the animal rights group called foul on the "shady lack of transparency" and withdrew its participation in the group.

In the letter, PETA also notes that the RDS already requires only 50% compliance with "minor" requirements, which allows suppliers to "get away with practices that systemically harm animals – including punching holes in birds' feet; clipping their wings; declawing, dumping, and throwing hatchlings; and failing to provide them with protection from extreme weather conditions or predators."

PETA believes the confidentiality agreement reveals a further bias towards the interests of companies, suppliers, and producers that profit from down rather than a commitment to animal care.

"PETA has pushed the committee since day one to act to reduce suffering, but it's clear that it's focused on protecting companies, not animals," says PETA director of corporate affairs Anne Brainard. "PETA will continue to work directly with companies to urge them to ditch down and embrace warm and sustainable feather-free materials that no animal has to suffer and die for."

A spokesperson for Textile Exchange said the RDS has improved the lives of nearly 500m animals to date and been adopted by more than 90 brands worldwide, and is now undergoing a revision process, which began in September 2017.

"Opening the RDS for review was specifically intended to address ever-changing, complex industry issues that have emerged since the standard's original release in 2014. We are currently in the early stages of the revision process, and focused on collecting a wide range of stakeholder perspectives. Both Textile Exchange and the RDS International Working Group welcome feedback from all animal welfare organisations and other participants in the value chain. All constructive feedback we receive will be recorded and considered." 

Textile Exchange is anticipating the process will last through the end of 2018, and a draft of the standard will be publicly released for additional comment before it is finalised. Its policies and procedures for the revision and development of the RDS are publicly available on ResponsibleDown.org. 

"As a 15-year-old organisation whose mission has been to promote preferred fibres and materials, integrity and standards, and more responsible supply chain practices, we believe the impact of our work is reflected in the pivotal shift from traditional materials to more sustainable ones as documented in our 2017 Preferred Fiber & Materials Market Report. Textile Exchange and the RDS remain committed to working with a wide range of stakeholders to strengthen the standard and its systems," the spokesperson added.