Illegal kangaroo leather cleats behind football store lawsuit – Sourcing Journal

Two animal welfare groups are enforcing a longstanding California law banning the sale of kangaroo leather.

Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Center for a Humane Economy filed a lawsuit earlier this summer against Soccer Wearhouse, a small specialty chain with three locations in Southern California, alleging it was selling Puma football boots, Nike and Adidas in kangaroo leather.

The state of California first banned the import and sale of kangaroo parts and products made from kangaroo parts in 1971. The law, Section 653o, remained in effect until 2007 , when the state legislature temporarily suspended its application. This suspension lasted until January 1, 2016.

Although six years have passed since “k-leather” shoes became illegal again in California, animal rights groups have suggested that retailers are largely ignoring the law. A 2020 report funded and published by the Center for a Humane Economy, for example, claimed that 85 of the state’s 124 independent soccer stores sold or offered for sale kangaroo leather soccer cleats.

According to the Center and AWA’s lawsuit, the two groups went to “extensive efforts” to encourage enforcement of Section 653o, including writing letters to city attorneys and the California Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (CDFW) and meeting with CDFW officials. The plaintiffs claimed the department issued a warning letter in 2020 to football retailers statewide. The two nonprofits have also contacted “several” football retail businesses directly to raise awareness of the Section 653o ban, “some” of which have voluntarily agreed to comply.

Along with these efforts, the two animal rights groups have led an international campaign urging shoe companies like Nike to stop using kangaroo leather altogether. The couple’s “kangaroos are not shoes” campaign included organized protests, including one in March, as well as attempts to pressure the US Congress to pass a nationwide ban.

The Center and the AWA worked with an independent investigator from late 2020 to the spring of this year to verify whether football retail stores were complying with the CDFW’s 2020 letter, they said. Animal rights groups allege that during this period they visited four Soccer Wearhouse sites – one of which is currently closed – and found kangaroo leather products in each of them, including cleats from Puma, Adidas and Nike. They contacted CDFW with this information in September 2021. The department reportedly responded in January to say the matter was currently under investigation.

The plaintiffs say they visited the three Soccer Wearhouse locations again in May and June to see if they were still selling kangaroo leather shoes. In each case, they claim to have found kangaroo leather cleats for sale, including from Puma and Adidas, and spoke to a store clerk who admitted that kangaroo leather was illegal in California.

The animal welfare group’s complaint ultimately brings a cause of action against Soccer Wearhouse: unfair competition. But for the retailer’s alleged violation of Section 653o, they argued, the nonprofits would have devoted their limited time and resources to their “primary mission of advocating for the improvement of animal welfare, a more humane economy and better animal welfare laws”.

“Defendant’s unlawful business practices and acts, as described in this Complaint, both obstruct Plaintiffs’ mission to stop the cruel killing of thousands of kangaroos for the manufacture of football boots and obstruct Plaintiffs’ business by forcing them to devote their limited organizational time and resources to the investigation, enforcement efforts and preparation for this lawsuit,” the Center and AWA wrote.

An attorney representing Soccer Wearhouse told the Los Angeles Times that the retailer was “unaware that these items were illegal in California until a few months ago,” according to an article published Sunday. The lawyer further claimed that Soccer Wearhouse no longer sells the products.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action, told the Sourcing Journal on Monday that “the comment that the store had no idea there was a law is not a credible statement.” According to Pacelle, the nonprofits haven’t heard anything from Soccer Wearhouse yet, but expect “some sort of official filing” “soon.”

“We are considering further lawsuits against operators who defy California law,” Pacelle said. “We released a major report on the subject almost two years ago and shared the details with all stores. Then the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote to them, so that they are all aware of the law and must comply with it.

James T. Quintero