One of the purposes for which nonhuman animals are routinely made to suffer and killed is the production of materials for clothing. Consequently, the use of animal clothing means harm to many animals who are individuals with the capacity to suffer and feel pleasure.
In most cases these animals are not only exploited for clothing, but for other reasons as well including, mainly, the eating of their flesh as meat. This happens in particular with leather and feathers. But we must bear in mind that even in these cases, the economic value of their leather and feathers contributes to the profitability of businesses consisting of the exploitation of these animals. Apart from these cases, there are others in which the only purpose (or the main one) of the exploitation of animals is their skin or feathers.
There are currently several different textile products both synthetic and natural that are not from animal origin, with which all kinds of clothing can be manufactured such as cotton, linen, polyester, and gore-tex. It is possible to use these products instead of animal ones. In this way, we stop contributing to animal exploitation, in accordance with the rejection of speciesism. The same reasons for abandoning the consumption of meat and other animal food products in the interest of animals entail the rejection of the use of leather shoes or belts, wool trousers or silk ties.
This section explains the main different purposes for which nonhuman animals are used for clothing:
Leather is often obtained from animals which are also exploited for food, thus contributing to the exploitation of these animals. Most cows, pigs, and other animals suffer during most of their lives until they are killed for these purposes.
Animals confined in fur farms live in tiny
cages above their own excrement until they are killed when they are less than a year old. They suffer terrible stress due to this, and display stereotyped and canibalistic behaviours due to it.
In addition to those killed in farms, millions of animals agonize in traps, sometimes for days. Their misery lasts until they die due to hunger, thirst, or being killed by other animals or hunters.
Unlike what many people think, wool production is not good or indifferent for sheeps. It is part of the exploitation they suffer which entails many harms and eventually their deaths at slaughterhouses.
Birds such as geese suffer significantly while their feathers are pulled out, which is a painful procedure that is done while they are fully conscious. They are killed when this is no longer profitable.
There is increasing scientific evidence that small invertebrates such as silkworms may feel pain, yet they are boiled in great numbers to produce silk.
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1 See Boxill, B. R. (1991) “Equality, discrimination and preferential treatment”, in Singer, P. (ed.) Companion to ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 333-343; Horta, O. (2010) “Discrimination in terms of moral exclusion”, Theoria: Swedish Journal of Philosophy, 76, pp. 346-364 [accessed on 15 February 2014]; Lippert-Rasmussen, K. (2006) “Private discrimination: A prioritarian, desert-accommodating account”, San Diego Law Review, 43, pp. 817-856; Lippert-Rasmussen, K. (2007) “Discrimination”, in Ryberg, J.; Petersen, T. S. & Wolf, C. (eds.) New waves in applied ethics, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 51-72; Wasserman, D. (1998) “Discrimination, concept of”, in Chadwick, R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of applied ethics, San Diego: Academic Press, pp. 805-814.
2 An example of a position which is contrary to animal exploitation but defends speciesism can be found in this book: Zamir, T. (2007) Ethics and the beast: A speciesist argument for animal rights, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
3 See on this Graft, D. (1997) “Against strong speciesism”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 14, pp. 107-118; Holland, A. J. (1984) “On behalf of moderate speciesism”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 20, pp. 281-291.
4 Mason, J. (1998) “Misothery”, in Bekoff, M. & Meaney, C. A. (eds.) Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, p. 245.
5 See on this Burgess-Jackson, K. (1998) “Doing right by our animal companions”, Journal of Ethics, 2, pp. 159-185.
6 See Morton, D. B. (1998) “Sizeism”, in Bekoff, M. & Meaney, C. (eds.) Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare, op. cit., p. 318.
7 A comparison between speciesism and racism can be found in Patterson, C. (2002) Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of animals and the Holocaust, New York: Lantern; Sztybel, D. (2006) “Can the treatment of animals be compared to the Holocaust?”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 11, pp. 97-132. A comparison between racist and speciesist slavery, can be found in Spiegel, M. (1988) The dreaded comparison: Human and animal slavery, London: Heretic Books.