Hermès Birkin

PARIS — A day after an Hermès crocodile handbag set a world record at auction in Hong Kong, a representative of animal rights organization PETA confronted the French luxury label’s chief executive officer at the company’s annual general meeting over its use of exotic skins.

Isabelle Goetz, a French spokeswoman for the non-profit organization formally known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, read out allegations of cruelty to animals and asked Axel Dumas if Hermès planned to stop using exotic skins.

Dumas reiterated that the company ensures its suppliers respect international regulations in addition to its own rules of ethical conduct.

“You have a number of concerns regarding the treatment of animals. We respect them, but we don’t necessarily share your position regarding farming,” he said.

“Farming conditions strictly comply with international regulations because we want to apply the best practices in this field, and I think that Hermès has always been at the forefront of wanting to pay attention to ethics and the treatment of animals,” Dumas added.

The maker of Birkin handbags has come under repeated attack from PETA over its use of crocodile and ostrich leather.

After the organization posted a video report last year on the alleged slaughter of crocodiles and alligators, Jane Birkin called for the crocodile version of the handbag named in her honor to be rechristened until fairer treatments of the animals were put into practice.

Hermès moved quickly to contain any fallout from the affair, saying it shared the British performer’s concerns about animal welfare and promising to investigate a Texas farm implicated in the PETA video. It subsequently said it would tighten requirements for suppliers of crocodile skins.

Hermès in February released a statement refuting claims made by PETA regarding the farming conditions of ostriches in South Africa. Dumas on Tuesday contested PETA’s allegations that some of the French firm’s staff had participated in the cruel treatment of ostriches.

“Hermès has no exclusive ostrich supplier. There are no Hermès employees working on ostrich farms. We ask all our suppliers to comply not only with international legislation but also our internal rules, which are much stricter than international policies in this regard,” he said.

PETA U.S. has bought shares in Hermès and Italian luxury firm Prada to gain access to shareholder meetings. “As a shareholder, PETA U.S. will work from inside to demand a permanent ban on accessories made from exotic animal skins, including crocodile skin bags and alligator skin watch bands,” PETA’s U.K. director Mimi Bekhechi said last year.

Hermès bags made from exotic skins are among the most highly demanded. Christie’s said a matte white Himalaya Niloticus crocodile diamond Birkin with 18-carat white gold and diamond hardware sold for $300,168 at a sale in Hong Kong on Monday night — a world record for a handbag sold at auction.

In other business, shareholders overwhelmingly approved the nomination of Sharon MacBeath, group senior vice president of human resources at Rexel, to the board of the company.

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