Stand.Earth has recently published a research on the link between the fashion industry and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Using public and government data, the survey shows how the supply of leather from fashion brands represents an existential climate risk for the world, the Amazon rainforest and indigenous communities.
The cattle industry is linked to the availability of forests. A World Resources Institute’s study found that from 2001 to 2015 cattle was responsible for 36% of global tree cover loss. Cattle replaced nearly double the forest area of all other assets combined (soy, palm oil, rubber, coconut, coffee, wood fiber).
By analyzing the tracking of leather exported by the largest Brazilian meat leather company, JBS, Stand.Earth has identified the brands complicit in the annihilation of the lung of the earth. In fact, all the realities that source directly or indirectly from JBS are connected to the collapse of the Amazon rainforest.
The problem does not only concern JBS, but the entire Brazilian leather industry. The study analyzed all 6 major exporters, investigating 500,000 rows of customs data obtained from multiple data providers and cross-referenced with data collected from other sources to uncover the hidden supply chain.
Brazilian leather is used by tanneries and manufacturers around the world to make countless consumer-facing branded products, including high-end footwear and fashion products.
Italy is significantly involved: about a third of exports are in fact destined for our country.
At the time of publication, the research highlights over 100 brands that are at high risk of leading to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. These brands include: Adidas, Nike, Coach, Prada, Zara, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, New Balance, UGG, and Fendi, all of which have more connections with deforestation in the Amazon.
The study revealed:
- Brands with multiple connections to deforestation (=high risk), among which:
- Dr. Martens
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Calvin Klein
- New Balance
- Ralph Lauren
- Michael Kors
- Brand with a single connection, among which:
- Giorgio Armani
- Maison Margiela
By connections we mean the individual links in the supply chain between various companies (leather tanneries in Brazil, leather processorsin various countries, shoe/fashion manufacturers and brands around the world). An interactive site shows the links of all brands, parent companies and the supply chain.
The data analyzed also illustrates that a third of the companies included in the survey are violating their policies, while two thirds of the companies have no policies in place.
Some fashion brands are hiding behind LWG (Leather Working Group), which on the one hand is collaborating with the University of Wisconsin and two NGOs (NWF and WWF) to increase the transparency of the supply chain, on the other, however, fails to address deforestation due to the lack of tracking systems and availability of data on the value chain of cattle in Brazil.
LWG certification does not guarantee that the leather is free from responsibility in deforestation.
Brands often hide behind the claim that their supply chains are free from illegal deforestation, but a 2020 study found that nearly all deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal.
Slow Factory proposes an environmental campaign to ask for responsibility from brands and hold them legally responsible through legislation. “The fashion industry is known for deliberately obscure supply chains that hide massive human rights and environmental abuses,” explains Colin Vernon, co-founder of Slow Factory. “iven the very lax standards and enforcement on the part of the Brazilian government, we are calling on global brands to make sure that they can prove that their supply chains are clean, without relying on the word of their suppliers, or standards that have massive loopholes. The truth is, the Amazon is being burned down to raise cattle for meat and leather, and brands have the power to stop it“.
Is leather a by-product?
The recurring question when it comes to leather and sustainability is: “Isn’t leather a positive use of a cattle byproduct that would otherwise go to waste?”. Slow Factory confirms that this is not the case.
“Given how much export revenue Brazil generates from leather production, cowhides are considered a co-product, rather than a byproduct, of beef. While the vast majority of Brazil’s beef is consumed domestically, most of its leather makes its way into shoes, handbags, belts, and other items used daily by consumers around the world“.
If you want to read more about the leather industry, we have also talked about it here>