Adidas CEO slammed by protesters over controversial Aussie shoe leather

Comments from the Adidas CEO have sparked rumours the brand could discontinue its reliance on culled kangaroos.

Left - Adidas CEO Björn Gulden in a tracksuit at the AGM in Germany. Right - protesters at the conference.
Adidas CEO Björn Gulden has responded to protesters who oppose his company's use of kangaroo skins. Source: Animal Rebellion

Adidas CEO Björn Gulden has come under fire over his company’s use of a controversial leather product made from wild Australian animals.

Five protesters stormed the shoe manufactur's annual general meeting, leading with a sign reading “Kangaru leder grausam” or “Kangaroo leather is cruel”.

Australia’s slaughter of five macropod species, including kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabies, constitutes the largest land-based wildlife kill in the world. While our government promotes the export of kangaroo skins and meat as “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly” options, overseas critics argue its barbaric and liken it to Japan’s bloody dolphin hunting program, or Canada's clubbing of baby seals.

Opponents of Australia’s kangaroo harvest argue Adidas’s use of the skins violates its humane treatment of animals policies.

They note kangaroo harvesters are not monitored as they shoot kangaroos in regional and remote Australia, leading to concerns about animal welfare. Another contentious policy is that Australian guidelines require shooters to decapitate or bludgeon orphaned joeys to death after their mothers are killed.

Details of heavily edited video showing protesters at the AGM have been widely reported. The footage shows the moment protesters from Animal Rebellion enter the stage and engage with the CEO. During the clip, pictures of kangaroo bodies are displayed on the screen while Gulden admits; “I also find the images of the hunts and what happens there terrible”.

He then appears to suggest the company could soon follow the lead of its competitors and phase out kangaroo leather. “We will certainly, maybe, switch faster than you think,” he says.

Last year Nike, Puma and New Balance separately announced they would replace what’s commercially known as K-leather with synthetic alternatives, which they argue is superior to the wild-shot animal skins which are known for their flexibility and durability. This followed a four-year international campaign which saw protesters storm the retailer's shopping outlets.

On Tuesday, Yahoo asked Adidas to clarify its CEO's comments in the video. Adidas simply argued kangaroos are not killed for the creation of its shoes, and the leather it uses is a by-product of “population control”.

“We source the leather exclusively from suppliers that are monitored and certified by the Australian government, ensuring both animal welfare and the conservation of species,” it said.

Asked for clarification about how animal welfare was monitored during the hunts, the company did not respond.

A group of melon-headed whales clumped together in Taiji, Japan.
Opponents of kangaroo harvesting have compared it to dolphin hunting in Japan. Source: Dolphin Project

Jennifer Skiff, the director of Kangaroos Are Not Shoes Campaign at the Center for a Humane Economy spoke to Yahoo News from the United States, saying she was impressed with the protesters from Animal Rebellion at the company's general meeting on May 16th in Furth, Germany.

Since starting the international campaign most major retailers have stopped using K-leather, and she’s hopeful Adidas will soon do the same.

While Animal Rebellion's protest may appear divisive, accounts suggest the interaction was quite civil and all protesters left of their own accord following the interaction.

"The atmosphere inside, by Mr Gulden and the audience was friendly and the audience applauded as they left," Skiff said.

In a statement Animal Rebellion’s Karola Mang explained why she stormed the stage last week.

“At first, I didn't realise how terrible the hunt is. I was very moved by the suffering of the joeys that lose their mothers and suffer and die in agony,” she claimed.

“When I found out Adidas was the last major company to support this and was using flimsy excuses to justify their participation, I realised I had to do something against it.”

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