Merino sheep on a pasture

Cruel wool in sportswear is in high season

Biggest manufacturer Nike without clear commitment to phase out from animal cruelty methods


APRIL 7 2022 – A new report on “The use of merino wool in sportswear”, done by global animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS shows that each of the ten largest global sports brands still use merino wool in their product range. What many consumers don't know is that these are often uncertified and therefore very likely to come from origins that produce mulesed wool. The cruel method of mulesing, in which lambs a few weeks old are brutally cut, is still used, although painless alternatives have long been available.

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 have already made plans to switch to certified mulesing-free wool (2025 and 2030 respectively). FOUR PAWS now calls on Nike to also take this important step towards more animal welfare and spare millions of lambs every year immense suffering and pain.

Wool warms and cools at the same time. The sportswear industry has been making use of this flexible feature for years. Merino wool can be found in yoga pants as well as in cycling jerseys and running trousers. As the popularity of merino wool has increased since the pandemic, so has the responsibility of manufacturers for animal welfare.

"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

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 fibers 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.


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 the mutilation of lambs just a few weeks old. 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 without anesthesia. For the lambs, this means fear and stress, but above all great pain that can last for days. There have long been alternatives to this, such as switching to sheep breeds that are less susceptible to parasites. There are also certificates that trace wool back to the farms that keep the animals, in order to exclude cruel methods. 

The Story of your Wool

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization 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 organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, 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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