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January 2001

An Exchange of Letters


The Macy’s 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 not—and 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 consumer’s 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 or call us at 1-800-289-6229.

Internet Customer Service
Macy’s Department Stores

Dear Macy’s Customer Service,
I was in the midst of writing my own letter to Macy’s urging the company to close its fur salons and refrain from selling fur—coats and trim—in 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 I’m 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 Macy’s. I have turned to Macy’s in the past for kitchen items, luggage or seasonal fashions. Macy’s is world renowned as a department store of high quality and elegant fashion and is a retailer that customers consistently count on.

Moreover, the Macy’s store at Herald Square is a New York institution, sponsoring such family events as the annual Thanksgiving Day parade and Santa’s village; and is a must-see hotspot for tourists from around the world. As a Mecca of high-end consumerism, Macy’s must respond to the needs of its consumers in order to remain competitive. However, as the world’s largest department store and, as such, a most influential and reputable establishment, Macy’s has an even larger responsibility to its consumers and therefore must be held to higher standards in its selection of retail merchandise.

It is true that fur is—as you say—a “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 or 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. And—need 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 don’t think I need to remind you of how the apartheid system benefited a select group of South Africans—socially and economically—nor how it was specifically economic boycotts that ultimately brought such a 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,” Macy’s procures products in response to the desires of its consumers. But of 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 consumer’s in a free market process.”

Let’s 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 know 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 thousands 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 Macy’s 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 it’s 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 Macy’s and survey—let’s say—50 shoppers, asking whether they are aware of the ethical problems with diamonds from war-torn West Africa, at least 45 of them wouldn’t have a clue as to what you’re 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 agents is what will stop this trade; not consumer demand.

In light of all this, I urge you and the powers-that-be at Macy’s 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 Macy’s. Your counterpart—Macy’s West—has wisely chosen to close all of its fur salons and has stopped selling high-end fur trim. I ask Macy’s East to do the same.

Catherine Clyne
New York, NY
[Editor’s note: in reply, Mr. Brocki sent the exact same form letter printed above.]

It’s a Revolution—Not 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, MD, 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 chickens—people aren’t ready.” Not Ingrid. She said go for it. She had the prescience to envision the day—by creating it—when chickens would top the reform charts in the USA. McDonald’s “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.”

Karen Davis
President, United Poultry Concerns, Inc.

I thoroughly enjoyed your recent interview with PETA’s 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, PETA’s approaches to reaching people and creating change are diverse—-and successful.

I agree with Ms. Newkirk’s notion that there are so many different people with so many different tastes and opinions—it is impossible to please (and affect) everyone all at once. Sure, the group takes it 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, hearing that there is controversy, hearing that people are upset and demanding change. And many hearing the call are also following the lead.

Michael McGraw
New York, NY

Thank you so much for printing the interview with Ms. Ingrid Newkirk of PETA. It’s 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 world’s largest animal rights society, but also the world’s most courageous, innovative, hard working society.

I know, I’ve been a member since its inception and I’m well equipped to compare PETA with other societies of the world. I’d 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 abuse—from 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 I’m so looking forward to part II!

Adela Pisarevsky
New York, NY

Failing Vision?
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 Singer’s 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 flawed.”

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 God’s 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 “God’s tender mercies are over all of His creatures” (145:9).

I believe that the fault is not in religious teachings, but in people’s 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 prohibit 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 a vegetarian?

Richard H. Schwartz
Staten Island, NY


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