Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


A few days ago, many tanners were reflecting on a banner held up at the AGM of global athleisure brand Adidas which read “kangaroo leather is cruel”. This follows a trend in recent years of animal rights groups targeting Nike, Puma and even Prada over their use of kangaroo leather. The Australian Wild Game Industry Council (AWGIC) responded to the activists in a statement.

I have recently written about ethics and the difficulty of choosing the right hypothetical train station on the line to get off at, but this is totally different; it seems to be deliberately anti scientific thought. In fact, not using kangaroo skins is cruel on almost every front, will worsen climate change and further damage biodiversity. It certainly will not stop the deaths of any kangaroos.

Kangaroo leather first came into my career in the late 1970s when I worked for the UK Booth Group as CEO of Turney Brothers. Booths had a long history with kangaroos, having first set up an office in Sydney to export sheep and kangaroo skins at the very end of the 19th century. By the 1970s, it was a very marginal raw material.

Animal rights and managed culls

It was harder to fully research matters in the 1970s then, but we knew the four species were the red kangaroo, the antilopine kangaroo and two types of grey – the eastern grey and the western grey kangaroo. We got the impression that we could only safely process red but could not be sure that our supplies were secure enough to avoid the greys, so we decided to stop using them altogether. It was a sensible decision given our knowledge but, in reality, the culling and export was already being carefully managed; we merely lacked the right information.

The 1990s saw many concerted animal rights attacks on kangaroo leather and football boots became a natural target, since stars like David Beckham could be individually attacked and “shamed”. I increasingly find myself thinking that such campaigns pressurising individuals are immoral.

In the early 2000s, we sailed up Brisbane River and spent an eye-opening day at a koala sanctuary that also had a large kangaroo reserve. We spent much of our time in lectures and one-to-one meetings with their conservation staff. We learned that, before the arrival of westerners, kangaroos were not that numerous and lived only along the riverbanks. Drought, dingoes and hunting by aboriginal peoples kept the population down. Then, new farming methods allowed them to proliferate, with the eastern grey kangaroo thriving on the pasture lands and water improvements for domestic livestock. Above a certain density, kangaroos overgraze the land and destroy its ability to support many varieties of birds, insects and reptiles.

We were told that a properly managed annual cull was required to avoid environmental damage, maintain a healthy population and protect habitats. A cull that kills humanely and brings the skins and the meat to market is best as it can provide some income to help fund the environmental services (via a license fee).

Without a controlled cull, the animals will be treated as vermin and killed anyway, almost certainly inhumanely. If the culls continue, then the skins will go to landfill. Not one is killed for leather so, in that regard, kangaroo leather fits perfectly with other mainstream leather material in preventing brands from having to use materials mostly or totally based on petrochemical origins.

Clever but unethical

Attacking celebrities or embarrassing companies with stunts at their AGMs might make for clever publicity, although in a world where dishonest marketing is considered a primary tool of the worst types of capitalism, it is curious that supposedly “super ethical” organisations consider them appropriate. There appears to be little interest in seeking out true facts. There is clearly no scientific sense in stopping these culls, any more than there is for some deer, mink and rats all round the world. The steady loss of apex predators over the centuries has left many countries requiring culls of one sort on the other to retain nature’s balance.

In any assessment, kangaroo leather is a marginal material, offering excellent properties because of its incredibly high tensile strength, making for exceptionally lightweight running and soccer footwear. Brands and individuals must not give in to pressure like this, as it opens the door to further irrationality and sends false signals to their customers about environmental matters. We have far too many legislators around the world trying to enact laws that are based on false beliefs about the science of the environment.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

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