As written (see figure below), you work up from the bottom in a consecutive approach, and that explains how the concept was put together. Archie Carroll was first quoted on the subject back in 1983, more or less coincidental with the period when the modern ideas on sustainability were evolving.

There is real value for the pyramid in the leather industry. In the western industrialised areas, where the industry had its strength at the start of the industrialisation, and through the period when for the first time tanneries turned into factories producing large volumes, the problem of the second half of the 20th century was maintaining profitability while meeting new environmental legislation. With considerable worldwide overcapacity in leather production achieving reasonable margins was difficult for many tanneries. Those in city centre locations often had no space to build economically designed waste treatment plants so had three choices: to close, to relocate or to build an expensive bespoke plant. As we now know, many chose to close.

During the later 1980s and beyond, ethical thinking was added in. It was not some new invention, many historic industrialists have been very enlightened, but it was an evolved concept in this context. Later the philanthropic side was introduced with Timberland one of the leaders in the leather and leather using industries. Nowadays, all four elements in the pyramid are combined and well demonstrated by many leading tanneries around the world.

Worrying trends

Yet, at the same time, we are seeing some worrisome trends. Law enforcement, and an ethical approach to doing business, is still very patchy around the world. Rules on workplace safety and the legal minimum wage appear to be slipping, even in advanced nations as lighter touch legislation is combined with low levels of enforcement.

In Prato, Italy, and Leicester in the UK, there are busy garment sectors reported to be breaking many rules related to safe working and low pay.

In places such as Africa, where governments have been working hard to strengthen their institutions and legal systems, inward investment runs the danger of turning the clock back by importing corruption and disrespect for the law. The ban on exporting wet-blue looks like it has been routinely ignored in Ethiopia where it is difficult for the Government to enforce the law with tanners representing heavyweight donors, and elsewhere in Africa there are worries about companies blatantly ignoring waste regulations.

When the old city tanneries in the west closed, it was mostly the case that the capacity was replaced by modern, well laid out tanneries with new, safer, machinery and first rate effluent plants. It would be a disaster for the industry if that were to backslide as the African leather industry starts to grow.

Dr Mike Redwood

October 17, 2018

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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