A lamb and its mother

FOUR PAWS investigates Mulesed-Wool in Global Sportswear

Our report reveals there is no evidence for Nike’s mulesing-free claim  


FOUR PAWS investigated the use of wool by the ten largest sportswear brands, focusing on the market leaders, Nike, Adidas and Puma, which, combined, make up a third of the industry’s market value.

Lab testing, traceability tools and policy analysis data indicate that Nike has not taken serious action to exclude the cruel mutilation practice of lambs called mulesing from its merino wool supply chain. This comes in spite of the company claiming to support the use of non-mulesed wool and competitors taking active steps in this direction.

"Brands who source merino wool without animal welfare standards and traceability to the country of origin cannot claim mulesing-free status. In order for the mutilation practice of mulesing to become a thing of the past, it is now time for the sportswear industry to commit to higher animal welfare, by ensuring only certified mulesing-free wool is used in its products."  
Rebecca Picallo Gil, International Wool Campaigner

key points: Mulesing in Sportswear Report

  • 80% of fine merino wool for the global apparel market is produced in Australia
  • The vast majority (~86%) of Australian wool is mulesed wool
  • 90% of exported Australian wool is further processed in China – the biggest wool manufacturing country and the country Nike sources its merino garments from
  • The global sportswear market was valued at more than USD 160 billion in 2020
  • According to Fortune Business Insights it is expected to reach USD 267 billion by 2028. Over a third of the market share is held only by three brands: Nike, Adidas, and Puma
  • Scientific fibre testing and policy analysis shows that Nike, the world leader in sportwear is lacking the most and has not set necessary actions to exclude mulesing
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.

Q&A on Mulesing and Sportswear

Learn about the key issues, and what FOUR PAWS aims to achieve

What is mulesing and why is it an issue in sportswear?

Mulesing is the biggest surgical intervention farmed animals are subjected to on a routine basis. Young lambs are restrained on their back unable to run away, while large skin folds are cut off their buttocks with shears and without anesthesia. Luckily, pain-free alternatives are available, and an increasing number of brands are demanding fully certified mulesing-free wool based on robust certification and full supply chain transparency. Nevertheless, some sportswear brands have yet to ensure transparency in their supply chain to safeguard animal welfare and exclude mulesed wool.

Can you tell how much mulesed wool is in your sportswear?

Marketed as a high-performance material, merino wool is gaining popularity in the active and sportswear industry. Due to its unique characteristics – merino wool is fine, breathable, naturally elastic, antimicrobial and thermo-regulating – the fibre is increasingly being used not only in thermal undergarments but also in yoga pants, sports bras, bike shorts, running shirts, and other garments. The Australian wool industry’s “Woolmark company”, promotes the fibre for use in products within the ‘high-performance sportswear and next-to-skin apparel’ categories. Approximately 80% of fine merino wool used for the global apparel market comes from sheep in Australia, the largest wool-producing country. However, practices performed behind the scenes of the wool industry continue to cause controversy, and for good reason.

Do you know where the wool in your clothing comes from?

Australia is the world’s leading producer of wool. Almost all Australian wool is exported to manufacturing countries, with the vast majority (90%) ending up in China, where Nike sources its merino wool garments. There, the wool is usually mixed with other wool and other materials based on the brand’s quality demands. Without traceability systems in place, such as robust certifications, unwanted mixing of mulesed wool with mulesing-free wool is likely to happen.

What is FOUR PAWS' goal with the release of this report?

"The report reveals for the first time the high risk of mulesed wool landing in sportswear. No evidence was found that Nike, the world leader in sportswear, is putting reliable effort in excluding wool from mulesed sheep in their products. If Nike does not know where their raw materials come from, this does not negate their responsibility to ensure those raw materials are ethical – it highlights the need for greater transparency in their supply chain." 
Rebecca Picallo Gil, International Wool Campaigner

How has FOUR PAWS made an impact in regard to fashion and sportswear brands and mulesing?

We are working collaboratively with other animal protection organizations and the fashion industry itself, while campaigning for change alongside supporters, fashionistas and consumers, FOUR PAWS has effectively moved the industry to better care for animals. Since 1988, we have advocated for animals who are abused for fur, down and now wool and more broadly said, for fashion. Most recently, we have published a list of over 260 brands who have policies against mulesing an increasing number of those have set concrete commitments to only source certified muelsing-free wool in the coming years and over 40 brands have directly addressed the Australian wool industry in an open letter to call for joint efforts to end mulesing.


Map of wool traceability

This graphic from the report shows how sportswear often contains merino wool, which comes from convoluted supply chains, leading to a lack of transparency. Around 86% of Australian merino wool comes from mulesed sheep.

It's time for the sportswear industry to make a change

Without reliable certification in place, the wool sportswear companies use today is highly likely to come from lambs who have suffered through mulesing. With the alternatives available today, there is no excuse for mulesing to continue. Sportswear companies can become leaders in the fashion industry by refining, reducing and replacing animal-derived materials in their products. With the resources at its disposal, committing to only sourcing wool from robustly certified mulesing-free supply chains is a simple step.

Today, more consumers are demanding higher animal welfare from brands prompting a growing number of companies to take action and #EndMulesing!

Lamb in field

See the Progress we’ve Made with #StopCruelWool

Nike has received over 80,000 emails encouraging them to phase out mulesed-wool

Learn more

*Important note: Asking sportswear brands to #StopCruelWool and to commit to certified mulesing-free wool, does not mean that mulesing-free wool is wool completely free of animal cruelty. There are other animal welfare issues which need to be tackled as well. However, mulesing is the biggest surgical intervention which farmed animals are subjected to on a routine basis. It was invented 100 years ago to save sheep from flystrike, when pain-free alternatives were lacking; alternatives that are available now. Ending mulesing is an urgent call to improve the lives of millions of lambs. Nevertheless, the journey towards high sheep welfare will not stop there.

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