Dear Editor,

Open letter to the leather industry

As Director of I.CE.C, the Quality Institute of Certification for the leather sector, I would like to focus on a current topical subject in the international leather sector regarding sustainability.
Recently, the international press reported on the news that thousands of workers from the giant Yue Yuen footwear factories went on strike. Yue Yuen is a Taiwanese (Hong Kong listed) company that employs more than 40,000 people in Greater China. The strike was called by workers because of a lack of payment of social security contributions, inadequate housing conditions and employment contracts that were not in line with modern working standards.
The company in question is a manufacturer of footwear for many well-known international brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, New Balance and Timberland etc. During the strike these companies were concerned that the loss of production would affect delivery of their goods.

These brands, which are all members of the Leather Working Group (LWG), are well-known in the tanning industry and by us at I.CE.C as they require environmental certifications from the tanneries (their suppliers) according to the LWG audit protocol, which seeks to protect the Amazon from deforestation among other things. They seem to think that the tanners are partly responsible for this situation. Maybe they have not yet figured out that cattle, goats and sheep are generally bred for meat or milk, certainly not to produce hide and skins that are used and enhanced thanks to the tanneries, thus avoiding them becoming a waste.

This lets us understand how the major brands are careful about environmental and traceability issues, by checking on Italian tanneries in ways that, after careful investigation, I consider questionable. I wonder, why don’t they similarly care about the respect for the principles of corporate social responsibility such as human rights, working conditions etc.?

Clearly, what is important to them is forcing Italian tanneries into giving a good image in front of Greenpeace and the like. Meanwhile, the working conditions of thousands of people, who work for Chinese subcontractors seem to pass unnoticed.

Yours sincerely,

Sabrina Frontini, Director.

I.CE.C. Istituto di Certificazione della Qualità per l’industria Conciaria, Milan, Italy.