US retailers allegedly selling banned kangaroo leather shoes

Animal welfare advocates in the US have filed a civil lawsuit against a California-based sportswear and equipment retailer which they alleged are selling football shoes made of kangaroo leather, despite a 50-year-old ban on the products in that state.

The Centre for a Humane Economy and the Animal Wellness Action group claim in proceedings filed in a California court that US Soccer Wearhouse and other sporting retailers in the state have been “openly flouting the law” by selling “kangaroo-based cleats” in their shops, including from big name brands. The lawsuit does not allege any wrongdoing by the manufacturers.

Kangaroo products have been banned in California since 1971, with offences attracting fines of up to US$5,000 and up to six months’ imprisonment.

In 2007, the California supreme court affirmed the ban in an unrelated case concerning the sale of Adidas soccer cleats made from kangaroo leather, a ban which was extended to apply to all kangaroo leather shoes.

However, the government has previously acknowledged that it has struggled to enforce the law.

The Adidas lawsuit was brought by animal rights groups. The Centre for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action, two animal rights organisations based in Washington DC, are hoping their action against Soccer Wearhouse will set a similar precedent.

The organisations claim to have visited multiple Soccer Wearhouse sites and found them to be selling kangaroo leather cleats. In one instance, they claim to have bought a pair of black Puma King Platinum 21 cleats.

They allege that they reported their findings to state regulatory bodies for several months before taking legal action, saying that: “neither the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is the agency tasked with the investigation and prosecution of wildlife trafficking, nor any state or county prosecutors, has initiated a single enforcement action for violations of the kangaroo portion of section 653o”.

Sports brands often opt to use kangaroo leather because of its high strength-to-weight ratio, but activists claim that the commercial harvesting of the marsupials in Australia is inhumane and unnecessary, as there are synthetic alternatives available.

This sentiment has been picked up in Europe as well, where there is mounting pressure to ban the import of kangaroo products due to animal welfare concerns. Europe is currently the largest market globally for kangaroo products.

Some Australian ecologists have argued banning the commercial trade would be detrimental to the welfare of kangaroos by allowing overpopulation, an argument dismissed by a recent parliamentary inquiry in New South Wales.