Arsenic in leather!

While some things are easily explained; we do not use arsenic, no one breeds cows for their hides, other things are very complex. The difference between chromium III and VI, that Cr(VI) is not dangerous to touch, only if ingested, the reduction in consumption of water and energy over the last decades, that a few dysfunctional small tanneries do not represent our industry as a whole.

What has, until recently, been disheartening has been how poor much of the journalism has been. Often it has been superficial or very lazy. Lucy Siegle whose book, ‘To Die For’ was nominated for the Orwell Prize in 2012 wrote a whole chapter on leather based on a visit to Kanpur where she appears to have only visited the worst plants. Her more recent article “is it time to give up leather” looks like it was also based on that same visit, with a few checks on the anti-leather websites for updates. Like Ms Siegle a very large number of journalists have found themselves praising plastic coated textiles as “environmentally friendly” while condemning leather as wicked, without recognising the contradiction in this thinking.

Yet there is some evidence of the tide turning, of wiser journalists with more critical objectivity questioning this perceived wisdom. In doing so, they find the logic fits into place that farmers do not keep livestock for leather and, that being the case, leather should be much better than a plastic made from fossil fuels.

What is more, any journalist worth their salt would have to question how after so many thousands of years of development leather manufacture was being called out as so dangerous no one should do it? The material of footwear, clothing, saddlery, bridles, bags and cases, drinking vessels and almost everything else over the centuries? It is hard to credit that we would damage our own industry by developing processes that were unsafe for our workforce and potentially damaging to the local community.

A few recent calls suggest that around the world we have a few more thoughtful journalists, and that we should be seeking them out. No bad thing either to hold open days for employees’ families, friends and the community. If your tannery is not safe to show visitors round, it’s not safe to be working in. But opening a tannery to the community and openly answering questions is one of the best ways to dispel any misunderstandings.

Dr Mike Redwood

June 27, 2018

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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