Problems with the Brazilian Leather Supply Chain sounds a riveting subject for some obscure PhD thesis. You know the sort of thing: A Reassessment of 8th-Century Scandinavian Boat-Building Techniques.
In fact, far from being academic, it’s a subject of passionate interest to some of the world’s leading shoe brands: Nike, Adidas, Timberland and Clarks among them. That’s because they fear a catastrophic boycott of their products if they’re not more vigilant about the leather supply chain.
Their unease stems from an undercover investigation by Greenpeace which has all-too-credibly revealed that leading Brazilian suppliers of leather and beef for products sold in Britain are sourcing their cattle from ranches involved in the clearance of the Amazonian rainforest.
Clearing tropical forests for agriculture produces an estimated 17% of world carbon emissions. According to Brazil’s environment minister, Carlos Minc, up to 75% of deforestation is caused by ranching.
The footwear companies have been a lot more alert to the ramifications of this problem than UK supermarkets. They are asking for an immediate moratorium on rainforest destruction, whereas the supermarkets are still complacent about their alleged involvement.
The real issue is this. Brand-owners may cleanse their own supply lines, demanding assurance from suppliers that no ‘dirty’ cattle are involved. But it’s a bit like analysing securitised sub-prime mortgage debt. The good gets mixed in with the bad, and no one’s any the wiser because rigorous scrutiny is almost impossible. Even if the brand-owner’s supply line is ‘clean’, that’s no guarantee the same supplier will not provide third parties with ‘dirty’ goods. Which means guilt by association. Wal-Mart and Carrefour have shown the way forward by threatening to fire any suppliers who continue to do business with ranches involved in rainforest clearance.