Deforestation And The Leather Industry
The Amazon Rainforest provides a habitat for countless species of wild animals and plants. It also counteracts global climate change by sequestering carbon. However, deforestation threatens the Amazon. In the last decade, 16.5 million acres of the Amazon were destroyed. Deforestation caused by animal farming in the Amazon accounts for almost 2% of annual global carbon emissions, equivalent to the emissions from all airplane flights globally.
The Brazilian cow farming industry is the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Evidence suggests that most deforestation in Brazil is conducted illegally. Brazilian leather is exported around the world to companies that make shoes and high-end fashion products.
Stand.earth Research Group analyzes corporate supply chains for environmental destruction and human rights violations. Based on their findings, they hold companies accountable and persuade them to change their practices. The group has analyzed extensive data on hidden supply chains linking fashion brands to Amazon deforestation. So far, it’s revealed 400 supply chain connections among leather tanneries in Brazil, leather processors in various countries, product manufacturers, and fashion brands around the world. Over 100 global brands have supply chain links to Brazilian leather exporters.
Fashion supply chains are deliberately obscure, which makes it difficult to prove a direct link. In other words, a connection discovered by Stand.earth is not absolute proof that a brand uses leather linked to deforestation. However, each connection increases the likelihood that a garment was sourced from an animal farm that caused deforestation. Brands with multiple connections have the highest risk of driving deforestation. These brands include Adidas, Nike, Coach, Prada, Zara, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger.
30% of the companies behind these brands have clear policies against sourcing leather from farms linked to deforestation; some or all of them are likely breaching their own policies. The other two-thirds of the companies do not have any relevant policies in place.
Some fashion brands claim to be environmentally responsible because they’re working with the Leather Working Group, a nonprofit aimed at responsible leather production. While this group eventually plans to try to eliminate deforestation in the leather supply chain, its standards for leather manufacturers are incomplete. For example, they rate tanneries on their ability to trace leather back to slaughterhouses, not back to farms. In other words, certification does not guarantee deforestation-free leather.
Some customers believe that they only buy environmentally responsible leather. However, because fashion companies are deliberately ignorant of where they buy their leather, it’s impossible to know whether leather is linked to deforestation in the Amazon. Advocates should push for more clarity from fashion companies and encourage people to seek out more sustainable clothing options.