The company openly admitted that the material “was made of off-cuts of leather, which was shredded and reconstituted, and given a polyurethane coating to give a leather look.” They understood that most bonded leather sofas sold in the UK comprised 15–35% leather content. They believed its use was widespread and thought to call it leather was acceptable. They backed their claim with a bundle of British Standards related to leather: BS EN 13336:2012, BS EN 15987:2015 and BS 2780:1983 + A1:2013 (the “Glossary of Leather Terms”).

The ASA looked through all this and used common sense. They picked out the most relevant terms, essentially those definitions in the famous 2780 which state leather to be: “Hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact, tanned to be imputrescible. The hair or wool may or may not have been removed. It is also made from a hide or skin that has been split into layers or segmented either before or after tanning”.

It also makes it clear that if there is a thick coating of plastic, or the material has been chopped up and put back together, you cannot call it leather. So, they ruled in favour of the consumer, said that the advert was misleading and offered no substantiation that it was actually made of leather. “The advert must not appear again in its current form. (The company must not)… use terms which implied that the materials used in their products was largely leather unless they held evidence demonstrating that was the case.”

Two things are clear from this. Definitions count, even if they are not always enshrined in complex laws; but they only have value if we adhere to them and enforce them. All of us. And not just waiting for consumers to complain. Being proactive like our friends in Brazil have over the last three years is important. In most countries now, consumer law and advertising laws and regulations do not accept material that is intended to mislead consumers.

Right now with Muskin – so called “leather” from mushrooms – as well as plastics called “synthetic leather” there is the potential for a lot of confusion. While it is good to fight for easily enforceable international labelling legislation, we need to be sure first that we are agreed as an industry, and then that the definitions we decide on get fully disseminated to the industry and the public. We have some tanners who see no problem with Muskin being called “leather” and they must be heard.

Getting agreement is important as a lot of the issues that we are currently fighting for (whether chrome is a good or bad tannage, or whether coated splits are leather or not) were started by the leather industry itself. We set the hare running and are having to live with the consequences. It would be good to have a wide consensus going forward.

At the same time, all these standards and glossaries seem to be very expensive to buy, so are not very accessible to consumers. Even the ICT Glossary of terms is 50 Swiss Francs plus another 15 Francs postage, and only available via emailing the secretary. BS2780 is available digitally but at the price of UK£190 (US$237). Some of the sofas do not cost much more than that. Let us find a way to get the major definitions out into the market with authoritative backing, at no cost to consumers and consumer groups.

Mike Redwood

16th February 2017

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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