Expert View: Insurance companies financing animal cruelty in the fur and exotic leather business

October 2022

Despite public protests and government bans, fashion houses still lack fur-free policies


By Manon Stravens

Millions of animals are still hunted, caged, bred, and brutally killed only to have their skin or fur used in the luxury fashion industry. Despite public protests and government bans, insurance companies active in the Netherlands continue to invest billions in fashion houses that lack proper animal welfare policies, new research revealed.

Anyone who thinks that the breeding, hunting, and killing of animals to only use their skin or fur is a thing of the past, is mistaken. Millions of minks, chinchillas, alligators, foxes, kangaroos, and other exotic animals end up being processed into luxury shoes, belts, and bags each year. Annually, at least 440,000 pythons, an endangered species, are killed for the fashion industry led by major luxury fashion brands and fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Hermès.

Despite years of public protests and government bans, these companies are still financed by insurance companies active in the Netherlands. New research by Profundo, commissioned by the Eerlijke Verzekeringswijzer (Fair Insurance Guide NL) in cooperation with Bont voor Dieren, revealed that seven out of the eight selected insurance companies, including Allianz, NN Group, Aegon, and Achmea, have invested a total of EUR 1.37 billion in shares and bonds issued by the four sampled fashion houses. CZ was actually the only insurance company that did not invest in any of the four.

Skinned alive

The selected fashion houses are Aeffe (brands include Pollini and Alberta Ferretti), Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH, brands include Christian Dior and Loewe), Hermès and the Chinese retailer Semir (launched a fashion brand for children called Balabala), all publicly traded companies. Aeffe and Semir are not transparent about their fur and exotic leather use and none of the fashion houses have adopted strict animal welfare policies. Aeffe and Semir do not even mention animal welfare in their communication materials. The report concludes that policies are far from sufficient to guarantee that their products are free from animal cruelty.

And that cruelty is real, and already known for years. Slaughtering methods are for example incredibly brutal. To conserve their precious skins, snakes, alligators, and crocodiles are often skinned alive. Pythons are decapitated, drowned, or have their mouth and anus taped before being filled up with air from an air compressor. Animals raised on fur farms are gassed, electrocuted, or have their necks broken, only to preserve their pelts, according to the Fur Free Alliance. Once killed, the skins or pelts are bleached, dyed, or treated with toxic chemicals to prevent them from rotting.

Before being brutally killed, the animals already suffer incredibly as a result of the conditions in which they are kept. Cage-raised animals develop numerous physical and behavioral abnormalities induced by stress, as they cannot express their natural behavior. Alligators are raised in crowded tanks or pools of stinking water. Their spinal cords are sometimes severed with mallets or chisels that paralyze the animal without killing it (yet). 

No credible policies

Despite this reality, the study found that, except for CZ, all selected insurance companies invested in at least one of the four selected fashion houses. Allianz is by far the biggest investor with more than EUR 1.05 billion in three fashion houses. The biggest share of the investment goes to LVMH, i.e. more than EUR 1.2 billion. And following a screening of the companies’ policies, none of the insurance groups appear to have credible policies in place to exclude controversial investments in companies active in the fur and exotic leather trade.

The report, which was an update of a study in 2016, concludes that “The results of the present study broadly mimic those of the 2016 report. This suggests that insurance groups have not taken substantial action to tighten their policies and adequately address the manifold environmental and social issues associated with the fur and exotic leather industry.” 

Market developments

While most of the different types of leather nowadays used for clothing, footwear, and accessories are byproducts of the dairy and meat industry, the demand for fur and exotic leather from fashion houses is still significant. However, on a global scale a decline in exotic animal farming can be noted over the years. For example, annual global mink farming, led by Denmark and Poland, stood at 26.1 million skins in 2020, as compared to 64.1 million skins in 2018.

The Netherlands was historically and globally a leading mink producer, but because of animal welfare considerations a gradual phase out of this industry was already agreed by the Dutch parliament in 2012. During the COVID-19 pandemic it became clear that minks were the only non-human mammal to contract, mutate, and cross-contaminate other species with COVID, which resulted in the Dutch government accelerating the phase out of mink production entirely by 2021. In sharp contrast with these policy steps, Dutch mink farmers now control a significant part of East European mink farming and insurance companies active in the Netherlands are still bankrolling this sector.

Fox skin production, spearheaded by China, followed by Finland, decreased from 20 million to 1.3 million between 2018 and 2020. However, these declines are largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the question is whether the trade will resume again. Furthermore, exact statistics are “notoriously difficult” to obtain, due to illegal activities, as various animals used in the fashion industry are classified as endangered species.

Fur-free policies

Despite significant pressure from consumers, civil society, governments, and some investors to phase out the production of fur and exotic leather, the fur and exotic leather industry continues to be imbued by severe animal welfare issues, as well as environmental and public health issues.

Well-known fashion houses such as Versace, Gucci and Armani have already opted for a fur-free policy in recent years because customers no longer want fur. “Yet a few fashion houses continue to use fur and exotic leather”, says Sandra Schoenmakers, director of Bont voor Dieren in Dutch daily newspaper Trouw. “And that is partly made possible by insurers that are also active in the Netherlands.” According to the organization, animal welfare cannot be guaranteed in the industry. Hence, the capturing, keeping and killing of these animals only for their skins and pelts is unacceptable. When will Dutch insurance companies understand this message?

This expert view is based on a report researched and written by Arthur Rempel and Lennart van Loenen, with contributions from Léa Pham Van and Ward Warmerdam.
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(photo: Jo anne Mcarthur on Unsplash)

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