No mystery in UNIDO

Redwood Comment
Published:  27 November, 2019
Dr Mike Redwood

The best things in life are free, so we are told; although it is hard to imagine how this applies to the leather industry. For me, it took the unexpected serendipity of a trip to Ethiopia, for it was there I was able to spend an hour with Ivan Král who runs the leather side of UNIDO from his office high in the UNIDO building in Vienna.  

To many in the leather industry, the work of UNIDO is rather a mystery, but what we were discussing was a very solid outcome of their tireless work. It was the second edition of The framework for sustainable leather manufacture, compiled and largely written by Ivan Král and Jakov Buljan. This is 164 A4 pages of tightly written small print, well illustrated, essential material for everyone in the leather trade. Whether a starter, an apprentice, a supervisor or a veteran in the tannery, there are items of importance and significance to be found inside its covers. Indeed, its comprehensive subject list is a stand-out feature.

One or two items may feel a little familiar as they have been published previously in some trade magazines. Others have been used in UNIDO’s well received e-training modules, as more are likely to be in the future. Like modern retail, this content needs to get to the users via multiple channels and it is good to see UNIDO being ahead in multichannel distribution. This means, of course, it is all available free online. A few complete books have been printed, and I was lucky enough to obtain one and be able to enjoy reading it on a long British train journey complete with my pencil highlights and comments, and without a care for the uselessly slow WiFi on offer.

Technology has not been standing still
One point that was clearly made to me was the fact that technology had not been standing still in the five years since the first edition. While this weekly column continues to complain that product-wise the industry has failed to maintain a level of innovation to match competitive materials and stay relevant with changing consumer profiles, there is no doubt that the scientific and technical underpinning of our industry continues to advance. Reducing water consumption, changing to more “bio-based” chemicals for every stage of processing and finding new uses for waste streams are three areas where big advances are being made.

The second point is that throughout the world, education in the tannery is very uneven and the leather industry has workforces in parts of the world who are illiterate or very nearly so. So the ability to adapt this comprehensive in-depth material into bite-sized pieces largely explained by videos that can be watched on simple smart phones is important, as has been done with the liming pit cleaning, where hydrogen sulphide remains a big danger, as we have been seeing in India throughout this year.

Yet, do not misunderstand the value of this UNIDO text. It is undoubtedly an incredibly valuable practical guide to absolutely everything in around the tannery and the processing of leather, brought up to date to offer thorough discussion of all processing methods, all the issues and options around making leather more sustainable and supported by some of the simplest and clearest diagrams you can find.

Mike Redwood
November 27, 2019

mike@internationalleathermaker.com
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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