Ugly Secrets of Global Suppliers

Know the values system and culture of your international vendors

For her birthday last October, my mother received a fur jacket from Nordstrom. As an animal-rights advocate from an early age (I earned a Girl Scout badge by becoming a charter member of the Humane Society in my hometown), I reacted to the birthday fur with the proper amount of indignation. Yes, the fur was gorgeous, but what of the poor creature that was killed for its coat?

Actually, my mother was not certain what fur the jacket was trimmed with—probably fox, possibly rabbit. But when my mother sat stroking our beloved Sheltie, it was impossible to miss the similarity in texture and coloring between the fur coats she and our four-legged family member were sporting. Although we used this as yet another opportunity to decry the use of animal fur for clothing, we never suspected how close we were to discovering a horrible truth.

In February, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) formally identified a number of retailers who had inadvertently sold fur coats trimmed with fur from domestic dogs. It was a heart-wrenching moment at our house, and no doubt in the executive offices of the named retailers.

Retailers identified by the HSUS as having sold jackets trimmed with dog fur included Nordstrom, Tommy Hilfiger, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Foot Locker, Lord & Taylor, Smartbargains.com, Ross Dress for Less, D.E.M.O., Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Burlington Coat Factory.

In a formal release, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, stated, “If consumers buy fur jackets from China, it’s very possible they are getting falsely labeled fur from domestic dogs or raccoon dogs skinned alive.”

For readers like me who are unfamiliar with what a “raccoon dog” is, the HSUS defines it as a member of the dog family with raccoon-like markings. The breed is prevalent in China.

In a society that made superstars of Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Benji, a majority of U.S. consumers are appalled by the idea of wearing dog fur. However, even if the insensitivity of the product fails to move retail executives, the financial repercussions can be substantial. Intentionally importing and selling dog fur is a federal crime that can carry a $10,000 fine for each violation.

Although Nordstrom reportedly recalled the offending fur coats and most retailers removed the product from their sales channels, the HSUS reported they discovered that J.C. Penney, which was selling raccoon dog fur mislabeled as raccoon, merely blacked out the name of the species from the label and returned the coats to the selling floor.

The issue for retailers is much larger than the concept of animal rights. It speaks to the huge challenge of screening, selecting and managing global vendors. According to Gary Bull, managing director and retail industry leader of New York City-based Marsh, which helps retailers manage their total cost of risk, vendor screening for global partnerships is one of the top two risk issues confronting retailers in today’s market.