The Reality of the Leather Industry

From jackets, belts, handbags, wallets and shoes, leather has become innocuous, with many people not thinking twice about where leather comes from. Sadly, the leather industry is horrifically cruel with the majority of leather being produced in India.

Where Does Leather Come From?

Most leather comes from developing countries such as India and there is immense cruelty involved in creating the final product that you see in stores. In India and China, animal welfare laws are either not properly enforced or are simply nonexistent. For instance, in India, a PETA investigation found workers breaking cows tails and rubbing chili peppers and tobacco into their eyes in order to force the cows to get up and walk after they collapse from exhaustion on the way to the slaughterhouse. According to PETA, every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals.

While cows are usually the first that come to mind when a person thinks of leather, sheep, dogs, and cats are also killed for their skin in China. The leather is usually not labeled so you never really know where (or from what animal) the leather came from. If a product says it was made in Italy or the United States, more than likely the raw materials came from India and China.

By buying a leather product, you are directly contributing to the cruelty behind factory farms and slaughterhouses. How exactly? Because leather is, unfortunately, such a desired product, cows on factory farms are not just raised for their meat, but are raised for both their meat and leather. This enables farmers to profit from the sale of meat, as well as the leather from the animals. And if you’re thinking, “Well, at least they are using the entire animal”, the reality of the situation is that leather is immensely valuable to these industries and are linked economically. Leather is not produced to reduce waste on factory farms, leather is used to maximize revenue and product, further driving up the sales of meat and leather, all at the expense of innocent animals.

Cows are sometimes still alive and kicking as their skin is torn off, as seen in the above video of PETA’s video expose of Bangladesh’s billion dollar leather industry. Cows are commonly castrated, dehorned, and branded with hot irons, and their tails and horns are cut off, without any painkillers and usually between one and 5 years of age. Knowing that cows are extremely intelligent and emotional animals and just like humans, they develop strong bonds with their children and have best friends, it’s unbearable to think of the suffering humans put these amazing animals through just for leather.

Leather Is Killing the Environment

Not only does the leather industry cause the suffering and death of millions of animals each year, leather is destroying the planet, similar to the meat industry. Between the tanning, dyeing, and other finishing touches for leather, you’d be surprised at all of the hazardous chemicals that go into making a seemingly simple leather product. Chemicals include mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, as well as various oils and dyes. Tanning stabilizes the protein fibers (collagen) in the leather so that the skin stops from biodegrading because after all, leather is really just dead animal skin.

People who work in and live near tanneries suffer too. Many die from cancer possibly caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average.

As was recently reported, more than 150 tanneries in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s Hazaribagh district continue to operate despite several court orders and have been dumping 21,000 cubic feet of untreated wastewater daily into the crowded city. In six tanneries in Hazaribagh, workers, some underage, were found without shoes and with little to no protective gear. When you consider the immense animal suffering that goes into the leather industry, along with the environmental impact and the worker’s rights violations, is buying a new leather handbag really worth it?

Considering factory farming is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, occupies almost half of our land, and uses 23 percent of global freshwater, supporting the leather and factory farming industries is simply unsustainable.

Animal-Friendly Leather Continues to Soar

Thankfully, animal-friendly leather continues to rise thanks to the compassion of many designers. Fashion designer and animal rights activist Stella McCartney refuses to use leather in her line and even teamed up with PETA to discuss the horrors of the leather industry. “As a designer, I like to work with fabrics that don’t bleed; that’s why I avoid all animal skins,” says McCartney in the video.

Many other companies are realizing the future is cruelty-free and have designed innovative alternatives to leather. Vegea is a company based in Milan, Italy that specializes in the making of leather with wine. Vegea just recently won first prize in the Global Change Award international competition, which is organized by the H&M foundation. Green Banana Paper, a startup from Kosrae in Micronesia, created a cruelty-free leather made of banana fiber and another startup, Mycoworks, is making a leather from mushrooms. There is also animal-friendly leather that is made out of pineapples.

Today many consumers are aware of the horrors of the leather industry and are choosing animal (and earth!) friendly options. Leather alternatives can be found just about everywhere. Designers such as Liz Claiborne, Steve Madden, and Nike all offer non-leather handbags, wallets, and shoes. By simply using this cruelty-free clothing guide, you can easily find animal-friendly clothing and accessories. Don’t forget to share this post with a friend to help expose the reality behind the leather industry. The more people that know, the better!

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