PETA protests in HK on claims of Hermes Birkin crocodile cruelty

Animal rights group PETA may've hit its hardest market: Hong Kong.

Decked out in scarlet lingerie and a Santa hat, senior PETA campaigner Ashley Fruno attracted plenty of curious glances while protesting outside a central Hong Kong Hermes store on Wednesday.

Fruno's, ahem, beef with Hermes? PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, alleges the luxury goods brand buys crocodile leather for its famous Birkin handbags from farms that cruelly treat the reptiles.

Fruno may have expected a frosty reception.

PETA campaigner outside Hong Kong's Hermes store
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images
PETA campaigner outside Hong Kong's Hermes store

This is, after all, the city where in June a rare Hermes Birkin crocodile-skin handbag sold for the record sum of almost $222,000. The most expensive handbag ever sold at auction, it overtook the previous record set by another diamond-encrusted, crocodile Birkin in New York in 2011.

But Fruno, who braved chilly weather to paint "SKIN IS SKIN" across her bare stomach for the demonstration, said passers-by were supportive.

"I really believe that most consumers simply don't know that when they buy these exotics skins, they are supporting cruelty," Fruno told CNBC.

"We were so pleased to see so many shoppers walking by and nodding in agreement, and telling us they don't buy exotic skins, or that they won't buy products made from animals."

When PETA first aired its allegations against Hermes this year, French singer Jane Birkin released a statement calling for the removal of her name from Hermes' iconic handbag, which was named after her.

Hermes did not respond to CNBC's request for comment on the allegations. Previous protests have been held in Tokyo, London and Paris.

More broadly, Fruno said there were positive signs in China, which had been criticized for rules that made animal testing mandatory for providers of some consumer products.

"Progress is very slow but we are seeing progress," she said, highlighting changes made to China's laws to allow domestic companies manufacturing certain types of products to forgo animal testing.

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