Python abuse alleged at supplier of skins used for Gucci handbags


Pythons are bashed with hammers, impaled on hooks and skinned alive to provide skins used by Italian luxury brand Gucci to craft handbags, shoes and belts that sell for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, according to an investigation by animal rights group PETA, which gave its findings exclusively to CBS MoneyWatch.

The probe of two large python farms in Thailand took place from February through November of last year, with undercover workers shooting graphic and disturbing video of pythons continuing to move about while having their heads bashed with hammers and impaled with metal hooks. 

Paris-based Kering, which counts Gucci and Saint Laurent among its fashion and leather brands, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

PETA investigators visited Sisatchanalai Python Farm in Sukhothai, Thailand, and Closed-Cycle Breeding International, in Thailand’s Uttaradit province. 

A PETA investigator described watching the pythons “struggling” throughout the horrific process. “They inflate their bodies with water, so the body gets a bit wider and it’s easier to rip [off] the skin,” the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CBS MoneyWatch.

The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his safety, according to PETA.

“It’s as cruel and disgusting as any place, where their heads are bashed with hammers, and some are still moving while being inflated with water,” the investigator said of their observations at the Thai farms, which house as many as 15,000 snakes and kill about 20 to 30 pythons each day.

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PETA said undercover video recorded at a python farm in Thailand’s Uttaradit province shows snakes being being abused, including being bashed with hammers, impaled on hooks and skinned alive. The python skins are used by French luxury brand Gucci to craft handbags, shoes and belts, according to the animal rights group.

PETA


But the alleged cruelty to animals is not limited to any one fashion house or factory farm, according to World Animal Protection, a nonprofit formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals. 

“If you are buying fashion products — coats, handbags made from wild animal skins — they are coming from animals treated like this,” Liz Cabrera Holtz, the group’s senior programs manager, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Billions of wild animals farmed commercially

“The pythons being tortured and killed for their skins in Thailand are among the estimated 5.5 billion wild animals commercially farmed every year for use in fashion, traditional medicine, entertainment and as ‘pets,'” according to Cabrera Holtz, who cited recently published findings by her organization, which estimates the commercial wildlife trade as worth billions of dollars a year. 

“Commercial wildlife farming is not only responsible for immense animal suffering, it’s a serious zoonotic disease risk and undermines conservation efforts. Luxury brands like Gucci are part of the problem. We urge fashion houses to ditch furs and skins and invest in innovative alternatives,” she added.

Closed Cycle Breeding International (CCBI) in Thailand’s Uttaradit Province confirmed in an invoice that it had a contract to supply 5,000 python skins this year to Caravel Pelli Pregiate, an Italian tannery owned by Gucci — which bought a majority stake in the company in 2001 and then the tannery outright in 2008.

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Python farm’s invoice to exotic leather tannery owned by Gucci.

PETA


In its 2022 financial report, Kering listed Caraveli Pelli Pregiate SpA as a fully consolidated entity. The Italian entity bills itself as a provider of luxury exotic leathers on its website.  

On Gucci’s website, one can find a range of python products, from a Zip Around Python Wallet with Gucci script for $1,600 to a Broadway Mini Python Top-handle Bag available in red or black leather for $4,600, or a Gucci Bamboo 1947 Crocodile Bag With Python for $52,900. 

While Kering did not respond to requests for comment, the company in past years touted its efforts at sustainably farming pythons, and in 2019 published its animal welfare standards. Among other guidelines, it called for pythons to be fed a nutritionally appropriate diet and treated for injuries or disease.

According to PETA, CCBI’s owner pointed out an emaciated snake to one of its investigators, noting the reptile likely had not eaten for a long time and remarked it should be killed. 

Kering in 2013 helped establish the Python Conservation Partnership, with a focus on “improving sustainability, transparency, animal welfare and local livelihoods for the python skin trade.” Research published by the group cited commercial captive breeding farms for python skins in China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Kering said the PCP would develop best practice guidelines “for captive breeding farms and training the suppliers we work with,” Marie-Claire Daveu, the company’s chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs, stated in a March 2014 press release.

Kering stopped using animal fur, starting with Gucci, in 2017, but did not join Chanel when the luxury brand opted to to end its use of exotic skins from lizards, snakes and crocodiles. Months before Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld’s death in 2019 at 85, Chanel said it would stop using fur and exotic skins, citing difficulty in sourcing them ethically. It became the first luxury fashion house to do so in 2018.

Animals including snakes are sentient beings with thoughts, feeling and individual personalities, but because reptiles are so different in appearance than humans, people don’t always understand their capacity to suffer, Holtz told CBS MoneyWatch. 

“Pythons are pumped full of water to stretch out their skins, it can take hours or days for a snake to die, and they are conscious during the process, which is done to protect the quality of the skins,” she explained. “It’s as excruciating as it sounds. “Reptiles are sentient, and express emotions and pain like we do, so it’s as terrifying and painful for them as you would expect.” 

Kering in the past has touted an investment in python farming as sustainable and a means of ensuring the animals are treated humanely, but that lofty goal is impossible when it involves wild animals raised in large numbers in captivity, according to Holtz. “It’s a life of misery from beginning to end,” she said. 



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