Transparency across the supply chain is a growing focus for the luxury fashion industry. But leather – a key luxury material – has been overlooked.
The cruelties of the long-distance transport of cows are revealed in a new investigation shared with Vogue Business by filmmaker Manfred Karremann and animal rights organisation Peta. Leather production involves so many stages that it’s exceptionally difficult for fashion brands to know if their products are connected to the live export trade or not. The current best-case scenario involves tracing leather back to the slaughterhouse — and even that is rare. When brands know how their leather is processed, they can take actions like reducing the use of harmful chemicals in tanning. But the inability to trace beyond the slaughterhouse means they know nothing about how the cows are treated while they’re alive.
“I was surprised when I found out the extent of how little we know about leather,” says Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of Sourcemap, a platform that develops technology for mapping supply chain information, including animal welfare practices and zero-deforestation commitments. “We don’t always know where the cows are actually being raised, and we don’t know how they’re live transported.”
The precise extent to which live transport is used within the leather industry is unclear, but the global figures for live animal transport are staggering – some two billion animals annually, according to a recent report in The Guardian. Footwear is the predominant market for the world’s leather, an industry worth an estimated $80 billion and growing. Nathalie Walker, tropical forests and agriculture director for the nonprofit US-based National Wildlife Federation, who has worked with Gucci on a leather certification project, says the US, Australia, France and Italy collectively transport over $1 billion per year worth of live animals.