A measure banning the sale and display of animal fur products has cleared the Senate.

Hawaii could become the second state in the country to prohibit the fur trade within its borders, if a bill supported by animal rights activists continues to gain momentum within the Legislature.

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More than 50 individuals and groups have testified in support of Senate Bill 682, which would prohibit the sale, display or distribution of animal fur products within the state.

The measure cleared the Senate on Tuesday. Only Republican Sen. Brenton Awa voted “no.” The bill now moves to the House for further consideration.

There are currently no fur farms in Hawaii, and animal fur apparel is in relatively low demand, due to the warm weather and tropical climate. 

Popular retailers, such as Coach, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, were once major retailers of fur but have since joined the Fur Free Alliance, a coalition of organizations advocating for animal welfare, and stopped trading in fur fashion.

Fur sales, including at luxury retailers, continue to decline in part due to advocacy from animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Both those groups lobbied retailers and states to take fur-free pledges. 

The state Senate passed a ban on the sale of animal furs, which will now be considered by the House. (Blaze Lovell/Civil Beat/2023)

“Let Hawaii take the lead in banning these types of products for sale, given the destructive origin and what they do to the environment and the risks to the environment, human health and to the animals themselves,” said Sen. Angus McKelvey, an introducer of this legislation.

With its tourism-driven economy, Hawaii both relies on high-priced consumables, like fashion, but also has been building an identity based around nature and environmental consciousness.

Hawaii has not always been a leader in this field, such as in  2016, when Hawaii was the third-largest distributor of ivory products until state legislators coalesced around the Ivory Ban Act, after African elephant populations fell into steep decline, according to a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare

“We don’t have fur farms here, but we fight for the rights of animals,” said Susan Rhee, the Hawaii state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “No animal should live in a cage just to be slaughtered to be, you know, turned into a fur coat no matter where it is.” 

Local retailers, though, have a different perspective on how a ban on fur would affect their businesses. 

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said in written testimony that she doesn’t believe the bill is necessary because Hawaii retailers already have begun phasing out the sale of furs. She also raised concerns that not all retailers may be able to comply with a January 2024 deadline outlined in the bill.

“Not all stores are able to send their fur merchandise outside of Hawaii to a sister store,” Yamaki wrote. “This would mean that the goods would either have to be sold at loss or trashed.”

Although most of the testimony was in support of SB 682, some business retailers continue to voice their opposition and note the potential losses a ban may cause for local businesses. 

“Any of these types of ordinances that stop small businesses, whether they’re there or not, are an attempt at attacking both tourists, as well as small businesses,” said Michael Brown, the head of sustainability and public affairs for the Natural Fibers Alliance. “So I definitely think you know, bans like this, definitely put a ‘closed for business’ sign up.”

“In a time in which we’re focused on climate change and, you know, greenhouse gas emissions. We’re encouraging people to buy coats made from plastic?,” Brown said. “It’s actually crazy that that’s even being proposed or being suggested.”

“The activists on the other side of this argument, don’t really want to get into the reality that the products that they’re pushing are worse for the environment than natural sustainable materials are,” he added.

Animal welfare advocates also called for some exemptions from the bill.

“We don’t have any farms doing fur production in Hawaii, but we wanted to make sure that there were certain common sense exemptions (in this bill) that wouldn’t affect our cattle, or sheep, or goat farmers,” said Kekoa McClellan, an advocate for the Humane Society.

California became the first state to pass a law banning fur in 2019. That ban took effect in January after a transition period.

 “We want Hawaii to stand alongside that and move towards that movement of being progressive and fighting and standing for animal rights,” Rhee said.

  • Stories By University Of Hawaii Students

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