Vegan Life exposes the barbaric leather industry which is stealing animal skin in the name of fashion
Shoes, cars, belts, bags, clothing, furniture — leather is everywhere. It is a product which has become synonymous with luxury and quality and at times it feels impossible to avoid.
There seems to be a consensus that leather isn’t all that bad. The various industries involving animal products have created many successful campaigns over the years, to convince consumers that animal welfare is of the utmost importance and that to be healthy we must consume animal products. But perhaps their most successful piece of propaganda is the one regarding leather as a leftover product.
The belief that leather is merely a by-product of the farming industry, and one which we should not let go to waste, is a widespread idea, sometimes even from the most informed of animal rights activists.
We live in a money-hungry, capitalist society which means that money and profit become the bottom line of decision-making. The leather industry is no different from any other. It may project the notion that it is a necessary part of reducing waste, but that simply isn’t true. Buying into the leather trade involves cruelty, just like with any of the other animal agricultural sectors.
In fact, leather is the single most profitable part of an animal for the farmer. This means that the farming industry is heavily reliant on the leather industry being profitable because it acts as a type of subsidy to the meat industry, allowing meat prices to be as cheap as possible. Without this support the meat industry would not even be sustainable.
This argument alone should be enough to show any vegan still buying into the leather trade that their choices are directly supporting the meat industry they are committed to avoiding.
The leather industry predominantly sources its products from India, a flourishing industry in the country which has a turnover of more than five billion dollars and accounts for four per cent of the total of the country’s earnings for exports. That expensive leather bag may carry a fancy ‘Made in Italy’ label, but don’t be fooled, more likely than not it is made from Indian cows.
Cows are supposedly a sacred species in India, in fact many happily roam the streets — in a terrible diseased-ridden condition, but free nonetheless. However, the same cannot be said for those cows imprisoned by the leather industry. For the animals trapped behind closed doors, the trauma that they experience thanks to the leather industry is almost unspeakable. They are far from sacred.
These animals are forced to slaughterhouse via a gruelling, brutal, exhausting journey, often by foot where they get beaten, have pepper rubbed in their eyes, or have their tails broken to force them to keep moving and prevent them from stopping to rest. At other times hundreds upon hundreds get crushed and crammed into train wagons which are unthinkably small and uncomfortable. As a result, many don’t make it out alive at the other end.
For those that do make it this far, they face an unimaginably nasty end. One by one they watch on as each animal’s throat is slit. Often they are still conscious when they are skinned.
It is high time that we put an end to this appalling treatment of sentient beings.
When it comes to fashion, there has been a huge push from both within and beyond the industry to prevent the use of fur for fashion. It is not just uncompromising animal rights activists speaking out against the fur industry. It feels as though everybody is anti-fur.
The indescribable horror stories of animals being skinned alive for their fur, is undeniably abhorrent. Nevertheless, the leather industry is barely any better. It does seem hypocritical that a love of cute, soft, cuddly animals such as rabbits and dogs being farmed for fur is seen as unacceptable. Yet when it comes to the skin of a cow, this is acceptable and necessary. Let’s bring the attention to the leather industry on the mass scale that we have managed with the fur industry.
For some vegans, the dilemma of wearing leather owned before they became vegan is a difficult one. Some argue that the damage has already been done and to not wear it would be disrespectful to the animal, yet for others the idea of wearing animal is unimaginable. We’re not here to weigh in on that debate, but it is important to dispel the myth of leather as a natural product. You only need to look at the sheer amount of treatment which leather products require to be suitable for sale to realise how strange it is for us to want to wear it.
The leather tanning process is one which is designed to preserve a rotting piece of animal skin, in the same way that a corpse may be mummified. Think bleach, solvents and tanning liquor that under any other circumstances would go nowhere near your skin.
Leather doesn’t even stop at the harm it causes animals. Working conditions are unthinkably poor. The toxic chemicals which are such an important part of the tanning process can have disastrous effects on the people working in these tanneries, and for those living nearby the risks aren’t much better.
The most dangerous part of tanning leather is the contact workers have with chromium — often without gloves, masks or other protective equipment. Chromium is a chemical linked with a vast array of conditions including asthma, bronchitis, pharyngitis and many other ailments depending on how it gets absorbed.
According to a 2012 report by the Human Rights Watch group (HRW) the hazards involved are a direct assault on the human rights of workers. Other threats for leather industry workers can include injury from machinery which they haven’t been properly trained on how to use, accidents on wet floors which do not result in compensation, or even the horrific prospect of being boiled alive. Women have reported being paid less than men, and children as young as 11 have been found to be working in the tanneries.
The destructive health conditions for workers are numerous according to the HRW report, with workers described as having “prematurely aged, discoloured, itchy, peeling, acid-burned, and rash-covered skin; fingers corroded to stumps; aches, dizziness, and nausea; and disfigured or amputated limbs” with anecdotal evidence of increased risk of cancer.
Never let anybody tell you that in caring for animals you don’t care for humans. Veganism is absolutely a lifestyle which is intrinsically linked to fighting for better human rights as well as for better animal rights.
The human rights group, the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) published a report earlier this year that highlighted their concerns with the industry. The report explained: “While more employment was created in the leather industry through the growth of large-scale export centres, no attention was paid to the nature and quality of the employment created. Accidents regularly occur with machine operators getting trapped, workers cleaning underground waste tanks suffocating from toxic fumes, or workers drowning in toxic sludge at the tannery premises.”
These tanning processes are also incredibly detrimental to the environment. In Western tanning factories, strict environmental regulations ensure that waste is handled correctly. However, in poorer areas including the city of Kapur in India, waste is released directly into dump sites due to the lack of regulations in place. In Kapur some of the waste from its 350 tanneries goes straight into the Ganges River. Around 6.2 mg per litre of water in the river is made up of hexavalent chromium, which is incredibly dangerous to humans and local wildlife.
Even with the most careful of protocols in place, or by using the most forward-thinking of technological facilities, it is virtually impossible to prevent damage to the environment from tanning leather.
Plus, it goes without saying that the rearing of animals on a mass scale has been proven to be the most detrimental action humans are taking in destroying the planet. Raising farm animals produces colossal amounts of CO2 and wastes enormous quantities of water and food.
This mass slaughter of innocent animals doesn’t stop at cows either. An ever-popular exotic leather industry, sells the skins of animals such as kangaroos, snakes, camels and crocodiles and other animals as luxury items. Peta even reported that the Chinese leather industry skins and then mislabels around two million cats and dogs a year before selling to an unaware consumer.
At this point it would be understandable that you may be feeling helpless and full of despair at the state of the world, but the improvements in quality of leather alternatives show a brighter future. Vegan leather can be made from a variety of materials, including cork, pineapple, tree bark, mushrooms and even paper! The better the alternatives, the more appealing changing from animal leather becomes for the consumer. The prospect of a vegan leather takeover is gradually becoming more probable.
Leather may seem inescapable. Leather may seem hard to live without. But imagine how inescapable a life feels for those beings whose miserable lives get ended prematurely because of this barbaric industry. The chance to escape their hellish existence lies solely by the decision we make when looking for our next pair of shoes or finding a new handbag. Don’t let yourself become a part of it.