The Responsible Down Standard (RDS), a certification standard for down and feathers, is part of the Textile Exchange (TE), a standards and certification organization concerned with fibers and fabrics used by consumers. As such, all firms seeking RDS certification must first become members of TE, meeting its overall standards.
This is the statement of purpose for the RDS:
The Responsible Down Standard safeguards the welfare of geese and ducks that provide down and feathers for the products we all love.” What does this mean to the ducks and geese that grow the down and feathers? That they will
- live healthy lives,
- express innate behaviors,
- not suffer from pain, fear or distress.
That’s a tall order when we realize how many farms supply down and feathers. RDS certifies 2040 in Asia and 1040 in Eastern Europe. That’s not counting all of the farms in these two regions, only the ones it certifies. And it does not account for duck and goose farms elsewhere in the world. Although they cannot cover every duck and goose farm, they hope to “make an impact.”
Most down and feathers come from birds slaughtered for meat. The primary reason most of the down comes from Eastern Europe and East Asia is that is where ducks and geese are important parts of the diet. In North America, turkeys largely occupy that part of the diet (and they are not contributors of adult down). According to RDS, down and feathers account for “Less than 10% of the value of the bird.”
What This Standard Means
This is, at its core, an animal welfare standard (as is the Responsible Wool Standard), concerned with the humane treatment of animals (including birds) raised to provide materials for industrial, commercial, and consumer use. This relates to how ducks and geese are raised, housed and fed. More particularly to down and feathers, it enforces prohibitions against live plucking. Two coöperative organizations in this effort are Four Paws and Humane Society International.
There are six key points in the RDS standard (quoted):
- Any removal of down and feathers from live birds (live-plucking or molt-harvesting) is prohibited
- Force-feeding is prohibited
- The welfare of the birds is respected at all times: from hatching to slaughter
- RDS down and feathers is properly identified at all times; this ensures that non-RDS down and feathers are not mistakenly identified as RDS
- Each stage in supply chain is audited by a professional, third party certification body
- Only products with 100% certified down and feathers carry the RDS logo
How the Standard Is Enforced
First, each step in the supply chain to the manufacturer of a brand of down and feather products is identified, all the way to the farms. Understandably, this branches out exponentially like tree roots.
Audit: Each firm in each step is audited by a third party certification organization. This means inspection of each factory or farm, documents related to production and processing, procedures. Staff and officers of these firms are also interviewed.
Audit Report: The audit report is sent to certifiers, who review and verify results.
Certification Decision: The certifier decides whether or not to certify the brand. If not, the certifier’s report identifies steps in the chain not qualifying for certification. It is then up to the parties responsible for those steps to meet the standards. If not, the brand’s manufacturer can find a certifiable source.
Farm Inspections: Each farm and slaughterhouse is inspected by two persons. Besides what they actually see being done, they also look for evidence of mistreatment, including live plucking.
Warehouses and Factories: All materials which are to be certified by RDS are checked to see if they are properly identified as to sources (this is a “chain of custody” inspection, a standard procedure in the certifications of other materials).
Three of the organizations providing third-party certification for Textile Exchange cover the Responsible Down Standard: Control Union, Environmental and Ethical Certification Institute (ICEA – Istituto per la Certificazione Etvica ed Ambientale), and IDFL Laboratories and Institute.
Certified Suppliers and Manufacturers
On its website, Responsible Down Standard has a list of RDS-certified suppliers of down and feathers and manufacturers of down and feather consumer goods.
A disclaimer says, “The suppliers below do not exclusively supply RDS down.” A few of these are:
Allied Down & Feather (USA)
Down Décor/DownTek (USA)
Karl Sluka GmbH (Germany)
Ohio Feather Company (USA)
PrimaLoft, Inc. (USA, China)
Several manufacturers of consumer products with down and/or down & feathers are RDS-certified. This include both bedding and apparel. A few of them are:
Eddie Bauer (apparel)
Columbia Sportswear Company (apparel)
Downhome Inc, USA (bedding)
Keeco, LLC (bedding)
Levi Strauss & Co. (apparel)
Scandia Down, LLC (bedding)
The North Face, A Division of VF Outdoor, Inc. (apparel)
WestPoint Home LLC (bedding)
Other Standards for Down and Feathers
Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is not the only organization certifying down and feathers. Others include International Down and Feather Bureau (IDFB), American Down & Feather Council, and Allergy Standards Limited (ASL).