An Indian problem

Redwood Comment
Published:  09 December, 2015
Mike Redwood

At the successful IULTCS meetings just finished in Brazil, a conscious effort was made to stop speakers using careless terms like "synthetic" leather or "toxic" chromium which fall somewhere on a scale between illegal and deliberately dishonest.

All members and supporters of Leather Naturally! are cheering this as in many ways the worst enemies of our leather industry are those tanners who perpetuate foolish and negative opinions about leather with careless use of scientific terminology. It can occasionally be made even worse if "greenwash" is involved in an attempt to sell one leather as environmentally more sustainable than another; based on spurious or incorrect science.

As an industry, we want all tanners to be pushing ahead with leathers that require less water, energy and chemicals to make, and whose processes are clearly better for the environment. This latter is not as easy as it looks and requires consideration of the end uses of the leather and the available waste treatment setup, amongst other things.

Generally speaking, as an industry we are becoming more comfortable with the belief that the vast majority of leather made in the world is at least responsibly produced with chemicals properly handled, workers properly trained and equipped, and all wastes correctly and legally disposed of. This allows us to promote leather as a sustainable material which is far better than those made from fossil fuels.

We do have a lot of detractors who seek out images and issues to argue that leather is a bad material to use, and it is always a worry when they find situations that they can exploit.  This week's three deaths in a tannery in Calcutta is a typical example. Terrible accidents do happen but it appears these contractors were allowed to flout basic safety rules and were not wearing appropriate personal protection equipment for entering a deep pit to clean it. 

At the start of 2015 we were encouraged that in Kanpur and Calcutta the Indian authorities started to clamp down on the small and medium sized tanneries that were not willing or able to obey the laws related to environmental and worker safety matters. Was it really just a pretence?

India is embarking on a major push for growth in its leather industry and the Council for Leather Exports (CLE) is aiming to more than double leather exports to US$15 billion by 2020, with a mix of increased effort, expansion and foreign investment. The CLE understands branding very well and it must know that these events allied with lax and uneven enforcement of the law greatly damage the brand image of Indian leather, and will hugely inhibit their attempts to meet the target.

They also damage the image of leather for every other country in the world. It is time to change.

 Listen to the podcast here: An Indian problem

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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