Damning Aussie wool audit kept under wraps

By Boyd Champness

THE International Wool Secretariat, now the Woolmark Company, kept secret an audit report that showed only 5% of money spent on wool research and development delivered a return.

Australias grower-funded wool promoter also delayed the adoption of new technologies, such as shrink proofing, for fear of losing face with manufacturers it had earlier persuaded to invest in a less effective process, according to a report in The Weekly Times.

The Futures Direction Taskforce – a government and industry-initiated investigation into the future of wool in Australia – included the unpublished IWS audit in its long-awaited report along with other IWS shortcomings.

The taskforce has recommended the statutory IWS/Woolmark Company be replaced by a privatised company called Australia Wool Services to be controlled by wool growing shareholders.

The taskforce said in some instances woolgrowers would have been better not to have paid research levies.

It said statutory organisations were “vulnerable to the temptation of self-justification” and lacked commercial performance.

The audit, conducted before the 1997 IWS annual meeting, found woolgrowers received a return of just 40 cents for every dollar spent on 10 technologies that had been commercially adopted.

The audit assessed the outcome of the IWSs A$171 million (£69m) spent on research from 1991 to 1996.

The taskforce said: “The disturbing feature of this audit report, apart from its results which are disturbing enough, is that it has never been published.”

The Woolmark Companys managing director Adrian Kloeden told The Weekly Times that the audit was referred to in the companys 1997-98 annual report and like other commercial organisations, the company does not always publish full audit reports.

In another damning revelation, the IWSs director of corporate planning in London in 1973, Professor Jack Lewis, found that the IWS deliberately withheld the implementation of new technologies, such as shrink-proofing, for fear of losing face with manufacturers it had earlier convinced to invest in a less effective process.

The taskforce learnt the then IWS managing director ordered all copies of Prof Lewis paper be destroyed. But one survived.

The taskforces findings are now with the Federal Government, which is expected to support and implement many of its recommendations.

On a slightly brighter note for the flagging wool industry, European football champion Manchester United and Australias Olympic athletes will wear Sportwool.

The sponsorship deal with United and UK sportswear supplier Umbro will be for 12 months, Woolmark chairman Tony Sherlock told The Weekly Times. The deal coincides with the 2000-01 football season.

Umbro will use the Sportwool-labelled polyester/woolblend fabric in the teams playing guernseys and training shirts.

But the real coup for Woolmark is that all of the supporter kit, with a reputed turnover of one million guernseys and shirts, will also be made of Sportwool. The wool will be used on the inner side of the tops as brush velour.

The United sponsorship follows Woolmarks recent announcement that it will outfit Australias athletes for the Sydney Olympics (2000), the Salt Lake Winter Games (2002) and the Athens Olympics (2004). In the past, Sportwool has been restricted to Australias Commonwealth Games athletes and the Australian cricket team.

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