Launched in 2012, the Higg Index seeks to help brands, retailers and manufacturers to assess the sustainability of materials for use in footwear, garments and other consumer products. Following a revision of the updated version of the index in August 2020, leather industry bodies such as the International Council of Tanners (ICT), the International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies (IULTCS), the Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA), China Leather Industry Association (CLIA) and leather’s representative body in the European Union, Cotance, have concluded that it treats leather unfairly.

In a joint letter addressed to SAC, these leather industry bodies have requested the suspension of leather’s MSI score pending reviews of the methodologies and data it uses. In the letter, Dr Kerry Senior, ICT, said that the leather industry recognises the need for assessment of the environmental impacts of products and, as the industry remains committed to dialogue with the SAC, it would work with the organisation to make its assessment of leather fairer and more accurate. However, he said that senior representatives of the global leather sector were in no doubt that the use of “inappropriate methodologies” and “out-of-date, unrepresentative, inaccurate and incomplete data” had led to leather being burdened with a disproportionately high Higg Index score. “This has led to a negative perception of leather that does not reflect its sustainable, circular nature”, said Senior. “On the basis of current Higg score, manufacturers are deselecting leather in favour of fossil fuel-derived, unsustainable synthetic products. We believe that the reputation and viability of leather and leather manufacturers are being unfairly damaged by an assessment that does not reflect the true nature of leather or, indeed, the alternatives”, he added.

Concerns highlighted by the co-signatories include the MSI’s use of old, inaccurate data, narrow geographical focus, misconceptions about the raw materials tanners use, and reluctance to take into account the durability and longevity of leather in assessing its environmental impact. “More troubling is the lack of transparency on the basis for the score and the lack of engagement with the wider leather industry to ensure that the data is accurate”, reads the letter.

To read the letter, please click here.