An Exchange of Letters
The Macys Position on Fur
We have received your recent communication regarding the sale of fur
in our stores, and I want to thank you for taking the time to share
your views with us on this very sensitive and emotional topic.
Many people believe as you do, and many of them are acting on that belief,
declining to buy fur products or to shop in stores that sell them. We
respect these views. Clearly, such decisions made by individual consumers
function as a singularly effective barometer for determining what will
and what will not be offered for sale in a free and open marketplace.
As retailers, our role is that of a buying agent for the American consumer.
It is the consumer who ultimately will determine whether fur will continue
to be a viable product in the American retail marketplace; if no one
wants to buy fur, retailers will not sell it. Right now, this is not
the case. Unfortunately, while many people share your opinions about
fur, and buy only faux furs, which we also sell, many others do notand
they, too, are our customers.
Such conflicting viewpoints only serve to underscore our belief that
factors unrelated to the workings of a free market economy are inappropriate
as determinants of retail offerings, and that prior censorship of legitimate
market offerings by retailers would subvert a role that properly is
the consumers in a free market process.
I hope you can appreciate our position on this subject, even though
it may differ from your own. Nonetheless, I appreciate having this opportunity
to respond, and thank you again for taking the time to write to us.
If you have any further questions, please e-mail us at email@example.com
or call us at 1-800-289-6229.
Internet Customer Service
Macys Department Stores
Dear Macys Customer Service,
I was in the midst of writing my own letter to Macys urging the
company to close its fur salons and refrain from selling furcoats
and trimin its stores, when a friend sent me a copy of your response
(see above) to her recent letter. Rather than revisiting what she (and
others Im sure) has already said, I would like to share a few
thoughts that I have on the matter of Macys position on the sale
of fur in its stores. I hope that you might take a moment to hear me
out and perhaps see fit to pass my comments on to others.
First let me say that, personally, I have a soft spot for Macys.
I have turned to Macys in the past for kitchen items, luggage
or seasonal fashions. Macys is world renowned as a department
store of high quality and elegant fashion and is a retailer that customers
consistently count on.
Moreover, the Macys store at Herald Square is a New York institution,
sponsoring such family events as the annual Thanksgiving Day parade
and Santas village; and is a must-see hotspot for tourists from
around the world. As a Mecca of high-end consumerism, Macys must
respond to the needs of its consumers in order to remain competitive.
However, as the worlds largest department store and, as such,
a most influential and reputable establishment, Macys has an
even larger responsibility to its consumers and therefore must be held
higher standards in its selection of retail merchandise.
It is true that fur isas you saya very sensitive and
emotional topic. These words could almost be construed as dismissive,
but then, we all know that consumer-driven engines such as slavery,
as well as child, low-wage and forced labor, are also highly-charged
sensitive and emotional issues. And rightly so.
Rhetorical as it may be, I have to ask where you think we would be
now if major commercial players chose to override moral protestations
obligations, and continued to sell merchandise procured from institutions
they knew were inherently unjust, exploitative and painful? Slavery,
forced labor, and apartheid are all systems that benefit a marginal
few. Andneed I remind you?they are market-driven systems.
People engaged in the slave trade because it was profitable; and slaves
were most definitely, as you say of fur, a viable product in the
American retail marketplace. Speaking of cheap labor, European
companies, such as Siemens electronics and Volkswagen automobiles, benefited
greatly from German-run labor camps during World War II. I dont
think I need to remind you of how the apartheid system benefited a select
group of South Africanssocially and economicallynor how
it was specifically economic boycotts that ultimately brought such
brutal system to its knees. We all know now how wrong and antiquated
the ideology was that kept these institutions in place.
As the buying agent for the American consumer, Macys
procures products in response to the desires of its consumers. But
objections to the sale of fur, you say:
Such conflicting viewpoints only serve to underscore our belief
that factors unrelated to the workings of a free market economy are
inappropriate as determinants of retail offerings, and that prior censorship
of legitimate market offerings by retailers would subvert a role that
properly is the consumers in a free market process.
Lets try applying your words to arguments against any of the abusive
scenarios mentioned above. If we take this position seriously, then
we cannot apply any determinants of retail offerings or
hold buying agents accountable for anything that they do.
So, for example, we would have to completely dismiss lawsuits seeking
compensation for survivors of German concentration camps from the banks,
insurance companies, art dealers, and industries that utilized their
forced labor or profited from their stolen bank accounts and artworks,
and fraudulent insurance policies, since, after all, these institutions
were only buying agents for consumers. Sure, it was a war-time
economy with unprecedented circumstances, but people would not have
been exploited if it did not benefit someone.
Such factors unrelated to the workings of a free market economy
involve the abduction of human beings from their homes and subjecting
them to egregious abuse, including incarceration, starvation, exposure
to the elements, branding, and execution. Change the phrase human
beings to animals in the preceding sentence, and you
have the precise scenario of creatures farmed and trapped for their
fur. You argue that if no one wants to buy fur, retailers will
not sell it; if that is so, then slave traders would have been
out of business because no one wanted to buy a human being. We all
that consumer demand is not what ended slavery in this country. And
if we stay with animals for a moment, there is international recognition
that the ivory trade is directly responsible for the decimation of
of elephants. There is a reason that an embargo of elephant-derived
ivory is in place; but even this is not deterring every consumer.
One final query. Does Macys sell so-called blood or
conflict diamonds from mines in West Africa that are sold
to fuel the wars that plague that area? If so, then its news to
me, and would be news to others. If not, then how can such moral determinants
be considered appropriate in light of your argument? If you stand at
one of the perfume counters on the main floor of Macys and surveylets
say50 shoppers, asking whether they are aware of the ethical problems
with diamonds from war-torn West Africa, at least 45 of them wouldnt
have a clue as to what youre talking about. Because the purchase
of blood diamonds funds the bloody tribal warfare in which
thousands of people have been raped, maimed, and executed; thousands
of young boys have been abducted and turned into murdering soldiers;
and children as young as one year of age (this has been documented!)
have been raped and mutilated, buying agents are refusing
to sell such diamonds. The morals and responsibility of the buying
is what will stop this trade; not consumer demand.
In light of all this, I urge you and the powers-that-be at Macys
to reconsider your position that applying a moral responsibility to
the merchandise you sell subverts the workings of a free-market economy
and effectively amounts to censorship. This is a transparent and irresponsible
argument, conveniently removing any responsibility from the hands of
Macys. Your counterpartMacys Westhas wisely
chosen to close all of its fur salons and has stopped selling high-end
fur trim. I ask Macys East to do the same.
New York, NY
[Editors note: in reply, Mr. Brocki sent the exact same form
letter printed above.]
Its a RevolutionNot a Tea Party
Thanks for featuring the interview with Ingrid Newkirk.(Part
I: Soldiering On in Satya, Nov./Dec. 2000) I remember when
The Washington Post ran a front-page Sunday article back in
1983 making fun of Ingrid Newkirk, her compassionate actions for animals,
and her fledgling organization. That article led me to search out PETA,
join forces with the little volunteer office group in Takoma Park,
and become an animal rights activist. Thanks in large part to PETA,
I founded United Poultry Concerns to advocate for chickens. Back in
our early days some well-meaning animal rights leaders advised
me not to do chickenspeople arent ready. Not
Ingrid. She said go for it. She had the prescience to envision the dayby
creating itwhen chickens would top the reform charts in the USA.
McDonalds did laying hens first. So much for the nihilists
in this as in so much else that PETA has done for animals. So get to
work and stop griping. As Ingrid once said, This is a Revolution.
A Revolution is not a tea party.
President, United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
I thoroughly enjoyed your recent interview with PETAs Ingrid Newkirk.
Her devotion to establishing and protecting animals rights truly
is inspiring. From naked fur free models to undercover investigations
inside places that I would never have the courage to go, PETAs
approaches to reaching people and creating change are diverse-and
I agree with Ms. Newkirks notion that there are so many different
people with so many different tastes and opinionsit is impossible
to please (and affect) everyone all at once. Sure, the group takes
on the chin over some of its ads and protests. But popular or not,
at the end of the day more people are hearing about animal issues,
that there is controversy, hearing that people are upset and demanding
change. And many hearing the call are also following the lead.
New York, NY
Thank you so much for printing the interview with Ms. Ingrid Newkirk
of PETA. Its important to help bring out PETA to the public as
much as possible because by their trying to abolish cruelty to other-species
citizens they also abolish cruelty to humans.
PETA is not only the worlds largest animal rights society, but
also the worlds most courageous, innovative, hard working society.
I know, Ive been a member since its inception and Im well
equipped to compare PETA with other societies of the world. Id
been fighting for the rights of the animals for 10 years before PETA
was born and immediately saw its magnificent potential, which has been
proven over the past 20 years! Of course, many, many animal rights societies
are great, but PETA is the one that constantly opens forbidden
doors and covers the entire gamut of animal abusefrom the humble
silk worm whose cocoons are boiled alive, to an elephant whose legs
are perpetually chained to circus posts, and in the wild their tusks
cut off their faces, in the wild, and their bodies left to rot in desperate
pain and anguish.
Thank you again, and Im so looking forward to part II!
New York, NY
In his thoughtful, positive review of The Edges of the Field:
Lessons on the Obligations of Ownership by Joseph William Singer
(Satya, November/December 2000),
Norm Phelps asserts that Singers ethical vision fails only once,
when he argues that people are entitled to dignity and security because
human beings are created in the image of God. Commenting
on this religious belief, Phelps asserts: An ethical system that
excludes the majority of sentient beings from its protection is fatally
While Phelps view is shared by many animal rights activists, I
think that it is flawed because, while the Bible teaches that only human
beings are created in Gods image, God and religious teachings
are also concerned with non-human animals.
Among the many examples of Biblical concern for animals are: the assertion
in Proverbs that, the righteous person considers the life of his
or her animal (12:10), and Psalms states that Gods
tender mercies are over all of His creatures (145:9).
I believe that the fault is not in religious teachings, but in peoples
misapplication of these teachings. For example, the statement in Genesis
1:26 about people having dominion over animals is generally interpreted
in terms of stewardship, and is limited by Genesis 1:29, which established
vegetarian diets for people. In addition, we should recall the many
Biblical laws related to compassion to animals, such as those that
yoking a strong and weak animal together and muzzling an ox while he
is threshing in the field, and that command that animals must be permitted
to rest on the Sabbath day (a teaching so important that it is part
of the Ten Commandments).
Also, Jewish tradition teaches that Moses and King David were deemed
worthy to be leaders because they showed compassion to lambs, Rebecca
was thought suitable as a wife for Isaac because she was kind to thirsty
camels, and Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, one of the most important Talmudic
scholars, was stricken with pain at the hand of Heaven because he responded
callously to an animal being taken to slaughter.
Rather than rejecting religious teachings, I believe that we should
challenge people who profess to be religious to live up to their religions highest
ideals. We might ask them, for example: in view of strong religious
mandates to be compassionate to animals, protect the environment, conserve
resources, and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-based
diets have on each of these areas, how do you justify not becoming
Richard H. Schwartz
Staten Island, NY