One of the larges corporate responses to the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest has come from VF Corp. whose brands include Timberland, Vans and The North Face. The company issued a statement saying that it will discontinue using Brazilian leather until it has “the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country.”
The Amazon, which spans eight countries and covers 40% of South America, is often referred to as "the planet's lungs" . Estimates show that nearly 20% of oxygen produced by the Earth's land comes from the Amazon rainforest. In addition, the Amazon puts an enormous amount of water into the atmosphere, regulating global temperatures as a result.
Environmentalists blame the policies of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro for the 77% increase in fires in 2019, compared to one year ago. Even worse, half of the fires have been detected in the last month. A highly-controversial supporter of US president Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has encouraged farmers to burn the land in order to meet the growing demand for beef worldwide.
Overall, the demand for beef is increasing as the demand for leather shoes is decreasing, according to the LA Times, June 2018. Once a status symbol, leather shoes are often a symbol of anti-environmentalism, especially to young customers. Hides and other byproducts account for about 44% of the slaughtered animal’s weight but less than 10% of its value, according to government data.
As both corporate management and humans become more committed to sustainability issues and customers take ownership of being complicit with large corporations in environmental destruction, Vogue Business asks the provocative question: Is footware funding the burning of the Amazon?
In recent years, companies such as LVMH, Kering and Nike have committed to sourcing only deforestation-free leather. (LVMH said it would provide €10 million in aid to fight the Amazon fires.) Traceabilty is a problem, writes Vogue Business, quoting Nathalie Walker at National Wildlife Federation.
“Many still think that because they buy ‘Italian leather’, that means it is not from Brazil, but that is untrue,” says Walker, director of tropical forests and agriculture at NWF. In fact, the Italian leather industry sources heavily from Brazilian suppliers like Frigorífico Redentor, a company that Amazon Watch describes as a “notorious illegal deforester in Brazil” and pegs as partly responsible for the recent surge to clear land. Grupo Bihl, Frigorífico Redentor’s parent company, did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Gucci parent Kering says that it now traces 80 percent of its skins to the slaughterhouse, with the goal of 100 percent traceable by 2025.
Not mentioned in the Vogue Business article is an answer to the key question AOC just asked and answered? Is the Amazon burning so that Brazil can meet the demand for soybeans, now that China has stopped buying soybeans from American farmers due to the trade war between the two nations.
There’s a surprising amount of writing on this topic in the past week. They include:
How Trump’s trade wars are fueling Amazon fires The Guardian