Warrendale-based American Eagle is about to see some action from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- in their boardroom, with no naked people, fake blood or celebrities involved. PETA is hoping to influence the company's wool-gathering from the inside.
Better known for attention-grabbing, graphic public demonstrations, PETA became a shareholder last month in the locally headquartered clothing company. The group spent $3,500 on approximately 70 shares of American Eagle stock, according to Matt Rice, PETA campaign coordinator. The purchase will allow the activists to introduce a shareholders' resolution at the company's May 25 meeting against the use of Australian merino wool. PETA figures that most shareholders, when presented with information on what the group considers to be cruel sheep husbandry and sheep-disposal methods, will vote for finding another wool source.
American Eagle declined repeated requests for comment.
Merino sheep are bred to have very wrinkly skin to produce more wool. The wrinkles are a cozy place for blowfly eggs to incubate. When the eggs hatch into maggots, they eat the sheep alive. To prevent this (as described in an Australian government guide), wool farmers use a practice called mulesing: slicing a dinner-plate sized hunk of flesh off the sheep's rear end, where "flystrike" tends to be worst, to create a smooth scar. The process is generally done without anesthesia.
After the sheep's wool-producing days are over, Australian farmers typically ship them to the Middle East to be used for food. Islamic dietary laws dictate that the sheep be butchered at their destination. They undergo long, crowded journeys on ships, and many die along the way, a situation which PETA has also protested. The group has been trying to influence the Australian government and wool industry for nearly two years, asking U.S. clothing manufacturers such as Abercrombie and Fitch to stop using Australian wool.
Although Abercrombie would not confirm its participation in PETA's boycott, legislators down under in New South Wales are already complaining about its effects.
The tactic of change from inside is fairly new, Rice says, but PETA has used it successfully before. According to Food Production Daily, an industry publication, the group convinced McDonald's to study changing its chicken-killing method to one PETA says is more humane.
"I think once the shareholders realize what's going on, they'll support us," Rice says of the American Eagle campaign. "Shareholders are people, too."