Report: Chinese Raccoon Dogs Skinned Alive for Knockoff Ugg Boots

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Peter Lilja / Getty Images

Raccoon dog in Ranua, Finland

It’s a trend that provokes mockery, yet persists due to its unrivaled comfort. But now “Ugg boots” — or more specifically, knockoffs of the classic UGG Australia brand — are coming under fire for the inhumane treatment of Chinese raccoon dogs.

If you’re wondering what raccoon dogs (otherwise known as Asiatic raccoons) have to do with boots that are traditionally fashioned from Australian sheepskin, that’s exactly the point. According to an investigation by the Humane Society International, many brands of “imitation” Ugg boots have instead been using raccoon dogs’ fur — which is notoriously acquired under horrendous circumstances — and falsely labeling it as Australian sheepskin.

In a graphic video that was obtained by the Swiss Animal Protection, workers at a Chinese fur farm are shown brutally abusing raccoon dogs — knocking them to the ground and holding them down with their boots, skinning them alive and throwing their bloody bodies into a pile, where they’re left to experience a slow and painful death.

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The shocking video has animal rights advocates around the world calling for a ban on imported products that contain the fur. In Australia and the European Union, where this revelation has sparked a debate on international trade, it is illegal to import products that contain fur from domestic dogs and cats, as well as from animals that are endangered. But because the Asiatic raccoon doesn’t fall into these categories — the species is related to foxes, jackals and domestic dogs, but not raccoons — it is technically not forbidden.

Imports of domestic dog and cat fur are also banned in the U.S., but it’s possible that these brands of boots have infiltrated American markets as well. This isn’t the first time that raccoon dog fur has been found in clothing stateside. In fact, a 2008 Humane Society report found that 70% of falsely advertised or mislabeled fur-trimmed jackets contained fur from the raccoon dog, despite knowledge of the inhumane treatment of the animals.

To safeguard against this type of consumer misinformation, Congress passed The Truth in Fur Labeling Act in 2010, which requires all garments made with fur to be labeled with the correct species of animal. The legislation took effect in March 2011, and has so far been hailed by animal rights advocates.

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As for the boots, it can be difficult to distinguish between what is authentically Australian and what isn’t. Lena McDonald, a representative of UGG Australia, told Australia’s News.com.au that the use of raccoon dog fur by other brands — and she speculates that approximately 30 to 40 unrelated products use the name “Ugg” — are disgracing the industry as a whole, and maintained that UGG Australia only uses materials from its local tannery.

“As far as I can see many of these boots are not made in Australia at all, yet they have the word Australia and Ugg on them,” McDonald said. “Labeling laws in Australia are a little bit gray, and we have seen companies cutting off tags saying ‘made in China’ and the Australian made tag put on it.”

While it doesn’t appear that Australia will crack down on this situation anytime soon, animal advocates are encouraging consumers to take matters into their own hands and be aware of the products they’re purchasing. Because whether the boots are fashionable or a faux pas, animal abuse is never in style.

Erin Skarda is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ErinLeighSkarda. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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