Oxfam has decided to lift a three-year ban on accepting animal furs in its 830 charity shops. It has decided that the need to send warm clothes to the former Yugoslavia this winter must take precedence over likely objections from some of its volunteers, many of whom are passionately opposed to the fur trade.
The prohibition, which had the effect of leaving people who had been convinced by the arguments of animal rights campaigners with little choice but to put old fur coats in the bin, is only being partially lifted. Oxfam is accepting fur coats to send to Bosnia, Iraq and the Caucasus until January. But it has decided that the ban on selling them in its British shops will remain.
Shelagh Young, a spokeswoman for the charity, conceded that it was hard to say why it was right to give furs to refugees in the Balkans, but wrong to sell them in Britain to raise money for refugees in Somalia.
'It's a bit of a grey area,' she said, 'but our fundamental principle remains that the fur trade is not acceptable to a lot of our supporters. If we sell fur coats in our shops it gives the wearing of furs some credibility.'
The ban on selling fur coats was imposed in March, 1990. It left Oxfam stuck with several thousand furs in its shops. After its latest decision, it may at last be able to shift them.
Attempts to recycle the furs and turn them into blankets were abandoned after they ran into expensive technical difficulties. At one point Oxfam was reduced to using the furs as wadding in crates and bales.
Valerie Brooke, spokeswoman for the Fur Education Council, claimed that Oxfam's decision was a sign that the fur trade was regaining the status it had lost in the 1980s.
But Carol McKenna, campaign organiser for the Respect for Animals charity denied that fur was coming back and said that Oxfam's decision left her confused.
'Most furs don't keep people warm,' she said.
'They are useless fashion items which get wet and muddy very quickly.
'A little fur jacket isn't much use to you if you are stuck in the mountains. If we reject furs because they are cruel symbols of suffering and badges of shame, should we force the poor to wear them when they don't have a choice?
'I think I would condemn what Oxfam is doing, although I admit it's a very difficult one.'
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