WHY? THE RELEVANCE OF THE LEATHER INDUSTRY
One of the most important products derived from cattle is cowhide. On average, Brazil exports around 80% of its bovine leather. The exposure to deforestation is embedded in the supply chain of cowhide that originates from Brazil and is exported to foreign markets.
A Global Canopy assessment has identified 15 key Europe- and US-based companies that could play an important role in reducing deforestation linked to these three industries. They include major car manufacturers such as General Motors and Volkswagen, furniture retailers Ashley Furniture Industries and DFS, and footwear companies Adidas and Nike (MacFarquhar et al, 2019).
The Global canopy results also show that only five of the 15 companies have policies on their websites that aim to address deforestation risk in their leather supply chains. These companies’ links with China are also important. For instance, most of the 15 Europe- and US-based companies are customers of the 11 key leather processors and manufacturers operating in China.
Italy is the second largest importer of Brazilian cowhide after China. Bovine leather is the main raw material used by the Italian tanning industry accounting for 71% of overall production. The most important end-user markets of Italian finished leather are footwear (42%), leather goods (24%), furniture (16%), upholstery (11%) and clothing (5%).
For these downstream companies, understanding deforestation risk linked to cattle production, and tracing leather back to its source, can be difficult. Some of the company policies are strong. For instance, they describe clear processes for checking which suppliers comply with their sourcing guidelines and they engage with those that do. Others have weak policies that do not include public reporting or independent assessment by third parties.
MacFarquhar, C. Morrice, A., Vasconcelos, A. 2019. Hidden deforestation in the Brazil - China beef and leather trade. Available here: https://www.globalcanopy.org/publications/hidden-deforestation-brazil-china-beef-and-leather-trade