Leather Naturally Demands Balance

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Leather Naturally has responded to the One World article "De leerindustrie kijkt niet verder dan het slachthuis" (The leather industry does not look beyond the slaughterhouse) with a demand for a balanced and logical approach.

You are correct to raise the issue of transparency within the leather industry but quite wrong to condemn the entire global industry based on something you do not like in China or your research in India.

At Leather Naturally one of our key expectations of the leather industry is for tanners to be able to demonstrate the traceability of their raw material for just the reasons you mention: so we can be sure that the animals are properly treated, and also so that we can be sure that the destruction of rainforest (as used to be the case in Brazil) is not involved in their supply. While hides and skins are a by-product of the meat and dairy industry most tanners accept that the moral and environmental aspect is important for their business.

A transparency check is part of the routine audit required by tanneries certified under the Leather Working Group, which covers most of the world’s major tanneries. Smaller or more artisan units who feel they cannot afford to join such a scheme have a free on line tool to use to be found at “Tannery of the Future” to guide them along exactly the same lines.

The leather industry is not a large one, being limited by the fact that its raw material is a by-product, but it is widespread around the world and as such provides many valuable jobs that have pulled hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out of poverty. This is a basic element in any sustainability programme and many African countries are now hoping to use the industry in this way since it has been so successful in South Korea, Taiwan, China and elsewhere in Asia.

It is improper to characterise an industry that is now very modern in terms of making an engineered product, albeit in some cases with traditional technology, in well established and managed plants it is not possible to observe any of the unpleasant elements shown in your photographs of illegal plants in China and a Souk in Morocco. These have not been representative of the leather industry for many decades and certainly not in 2017. However to enter the mainstream leather industry today, transparency in such matters as the source of their raw material, the chemicals used and the management of any waste is of key importance for running a tannery.

It is true that for some centuries the skins of dogs were used for the manufacture of gloves, and in the UK this continued until the 1970s. It is untrue that one cannot identify a dog-skin from a bovine one as any experienced tanner can identify the difference by checking the cross section and surface pattern. China still kills dogs for meat and so it would be easier for you to lobby against this trade and the associated illegal processing than trying to fight a legal one with your scatter gun approach.

The issue of cattle in India is similar, where religious confusion has intervened in the normal dialogue about the supposedly “sacred” cow so the issue has been made a nationalistic one and appears to be the excuse to attack not so much the meat and leather industries as the people involved – low caste and Muslim groups. Moving away from the intolerant aspects of all this would permit proper animal welfare and slaughter rather than sick animals walking the streets and clandestine movement and slaughter in some states.

In both India and in China most tanneries are tightly regulated and working to high standard. All tanneries now are working to improve the traceability of their raw material and we are quite sure none can be processing dog skins “by mistake”.

It is nonsense to say that tanners are not interested in the origin of the hides prior to the abattoir and a number of brands already identify the precise farm their hides come from in the finished product.

No cow, ox, sheep, goat or pig is kept for its skin. The economics do not work. If the price of the meat, the milk or in rare cases the wool are not enough such livestock is not reared. The leather is never the determining product.

We would be happy to engage with you to help you understand the reality of what is happening. While the industry is not perfect and there do exist pockets of trade secrets or the sort of illegal behaviour related to dogs in China you highlight we do not believe this is so common as to justify your complaints.

The leather industry makes a sustainable material; one that lasts and the consumer likes. We make it responsibly and proudly and no tanner should be interested in being anything but transparent about the materials and their origins.

For an organisation that promotes itself as a platform for global thinking and sustainable living surely a balanced and logical approach is required rather than the assumptive and somewhat hysterical one you display in your item.

Leather Naturally September 2017 

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