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Icebreaker Ethics

Icebreaker Ethics

It's about our relationship with nature and to each other

That's not a slogan: it's the way we think.

We started with an inquiry about how nature works, and how we interact with nature. Our contract isn't just with our customers, but with the environment.

Customers increasingly care about where the things they buy come from. They want to know about the ethical commitment of the companies they buy from, and what impact their purchases will have on the planet.

We know we've got lots of work ahead, but we're committed to a sustainable business model that doesn't put profits ahead of the environment.

How do we treat animals?

A typical icebreaker merino station is about 40,000 acres, and supports about 15,000 animals - that's a lot of freedom

Merino sheep live free range, and are given extra feed at times of slow pasture growth. The growers who raise them are required to meet our strict welfare code:

  • Freedom from thirst and hunger
  • Provision of appropriate comfort and shelter
  • Prevention of (or rapid diagnosis and treatment of) injury, disease or parasite infestation
  • Freedom from distress
  • The ability to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • Sheep dogs don't miss out: we have standards of care for them, too.

No mulesing

Mulesing is a controversial procedure carried out in some countries that involves removing skin around the tail to prevent flies laying eggs and causing a painful infection. Growers who sign contracts to provide wool to Icebreaker agree not to use mulesing on their sheep, by either the traditional surgical method or the clips method.

We guarantee your Icebreaker is mulesing-free.

How do we treat the land?

The merino sheep that grow wool for our garments are farmed in some of the most fragile ecosystems in New Zealand.

Our growing methods respect these ecosystems and ensure long-term sustainability.

Low intensity farming - often at less than one sheep per acre - minimises the impact of farming on the environment and gives grazed pasture time to regenerate.

We sign long-term contracts with merino wool growers instead of buying all our wool at auction. Our contracts give growers financial security, and enable us to set strict standards on environmental management, animal welfare, and wool quality.

What is our supply chain? 

How & Where was your icebreaker made?

Our contracted globally located fabrication plants are required to meet our stricy and minimum standards on clean manufacturing technologies, fair treatment of workers, and garment quality and we religiously adhere to our standards!

Our core contract manufacturers are:

  • A wool cleaning and combing plant, which recycles and cleans its water through a specialist water purification system
  • A wool spinning plant, which recycles heat through its air conditioning system and also has water purification
  • A textile and garment manufacturing plant, which uses environmentally-friendly dyes and, when possible, dyes large volumes of fabric at once to reduce energy use. Half of its water goes through a water purification plant, which neutralises any chemicals and ensures only clean water goes back into the environment. The other half is used in a heat exchange system that provides hot water for the dye house before being purified

All our manufacturing contractors are required to:

  • Demonstrate impeccable business ethics
  • Have an up-to-date and impeccably maintained manufacturing plant
  • Have access to the latest technology
  • Be part of, or working towards, a global quality assurance programme, such as ISO 9001
  • Be part of, or working toward, a global environmental assurance programme, such as ISO 14001, and/or comply with the Oeko-Tex environmental standards for textiles
  • Be consciously trying to minimise environmental impact (for example, by reducing energy consumption and chemical use)

How Do We Treat Workers?

All Icebreaker's manufacturing contractors are required to:

  • Respect staff and provide them with a caring community environment
  • Provide good natural light, clean air and a healthy working environment
  • Give workers up to three meals a day and, if necessary, provide them with accommodation
  • Workers must be aged at least 17. They're usually paid a premium above the regional and/or national minimum wage, and there are opportunities for training and promotion.


Sustainable ink and Cardboard

  • All the cardboard in our packaging is either recycled and/or certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, an independent non-profit organisation that promotes the responsible management of the world's forest
  • All our printing inks are vegetable-based
  • The printer we use for our sock packaging is fully certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council
  • We are working with our garment packaging supplier towards full Forestry Stewardship Council certification for the entire manufacturing process. All packaging will be certified by late 2011

Less packaging

  • We've removed all plastic from our socks packaging, and reduced cardboard and glue use to an absolute minute
  • We're using biodegradable vegetable-based garment bags instead of plastic bags
  • We're carrying out a full packaging review to find other ways to use good design to make our packaging more sustainable


  • We ship by sea wherever possible

Accreditations and Partnerships

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (Oeko-Tex is an independent international textiles testing and certification system which limits the use of harmful chemicals). Our fabrics are certified to Oeko-Tex standard 100, class 1. This is the highest attainable standard and certifies fabric as being safe for use against the skin in baby-wear

  • ISO 14001:2004 (an international standard that sets the framework for an environmental management system and requires businesses to commit to continuous improvement). Icebreaker's textile and garment manufacturer, spinner and sock manufacturer are all accredited to ISO 14001: 2004. (Our wool cleaning and combining plant does not qualify because it has its water treated by a regional water purification company)
  • Icebreaker ethical manufacturing standards. All our manufacturing contractors are required to meet our ethical standards (see What are our manufacturing standards?)
  • Icebreaker restricted substance list. All our manufacturing contractors are required to not use any of the chemicals on our restricted substance list when making our garments
  • Zque. All sheep stations that supply Icebreaker with merino wool are accredited to Zque, an "ethical wool" programme that sets standards on environmental, social and economic sustainability; on animal welfare; and on tracing wool back to its source. Our Baacode programme goes beyond Zque to extended traceability through the whole supply chain
  • The Conservation Alliance. Icebreaker is a member of The Conservation Alliance, a group of outdoor industry companies that donate their collective annual membership dues to grassroots conservation organisations working to protect wild-lands and waterways

Icebreaker merino is 100% bio-degradable

A "Biodegradation Trial" carried out by NZ Merino shows how Icebreaker merino fully biodegraded after nine months. In comparison, polyester knit fabrics did not degrade at all during the course of the nine-month trial period.