WOOLGROWERS in Western Australia have received the strongest message yet that a long-term future for their industry may depend on finding and general adoption of viable, traceable and socially acceptable alternatives to mulesing.
Risk of fly strike has seen WA woolgrowers up to now more reluctant than Eastern States' counterparts to cease mulesing and much less likely to fill out a National Wool Declaration disclosing their mulesing status, according to Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) statistics.
But that may have to change if woolgrowers want continuing access to sustainable markets for their wool into the future, with major volume-focussed mass-market retail twins Target and Kmart last week announcing non-mulesed wool policies.
From July 2023 all of Target's own-brand wool clothing and bedding will contain wool sourced from farms certified under the Responsible Wool Standard or equivalent standard or farms that are traceable and verified as non-mulesed.
Otherwise, any wool used in Target brand clothing and bedding will be sourced from recycled wool materials, Target has said.
Sister company Kmart has made a similar commitment for its Anko brand clothing and bedding, but from winter 2024.
Both Target and Kmart are owned by Wesfarmers, the retailing, hardware, chemicals, fertiliser, finance, mining and treated timber conglomerate with a history going back 105 years to a group of resourceful and forward-thinking Wheatbelt farmers.
In its annual report in September Wesfarmers indicated it was moving to a new level of sustainability performance disclosure and this was complemented last month by the launch of a Wesfarmers sustainability website.
While Wesfarmers' 10 sustainability principles covering people, sourcing, community, environment and governance do not specifically mention mulesing, Target and Kmart - known as the Kmart Group - announced its own policies of transitioning to non-mulesed wool, making them the largest retailers by far in Australia to do so.
The Kmart Group division of Wesfarmers operates 520 stores across Australia and New Zealand where mulesing is now banned.
A spokesperson for the group on Tuesday explained the corporate reasoning for the non-mulesed policy.
"Kmart Group has recently expanded our 'Better Together' program dedicated to making a positive difference to our people and our planet," the spokesperson said.
"The program includes a number of new focus areas and time-bound commitments, with an increased focus on sourcing natural resources responsibly.
"As wool is one of the most important animal-derived materials used by Target and Kmart, we believe we have an important role to play in working collaboratively with our suppliers, the wool industry and animal welfare groups, to transition away from the practice of mulesing and accelerate sustainable farming practices within the textiles supply chain."
The spokesperson said Kmart Group would work with its suppliers between now and 2023, "by which time we'll require a fully traceable and transparent supply chain, verification of which includes the National Wool Declaration".
Target and Kmart's commitments to phase out mulesed wool products follows similar commitments by David Jones and Country Road Group of clothing stores.
Both are owned by South African retail giant Woolworths Holdings Ltd which claims to be one of the top 10 global department store operators.
In 2015, a year after it gained control of David Jones and Country Road, Woolworths announced a 'Good Business Journey' philosophy and in August, as part of that journey, its David Jones and Country Road divisions announced a 'Responsible Wool Sourcing Strategy'.
Under this strategy, by winter 2021 all pure wool products for sale in both David Jones and Country Road Group stores will be verified non-mulesed or from farms that have ceased mulesing.
By winter 2023, all wool-rich products - greater than 30 per cent wool composition - will be verified non-mulesed or from farms that have ceased mulesing.