Dozens of major fashion brands linked to Amazon deforestation

·5 min read
Large swathes of the Amazon rainforest are destroyed to raise and graze cattle  (AFP via Getty Images)
Large swathes of the Amazon rainforest are destroyed to raise and graze cattle (AFP via Getty Images)

A new report has highlighted the complex global supply chains that link dozens of major fashion brands to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, due to leather production.

Analysis of nearly half a million rows of customs data revealed a number of both high street and luxury brands that have multiple connections to tanneries and leather manufacturers that drive deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

More than 50 big fashion brands - including LVMH, Zara, Nike, Adidas, H&M, Coach, Fendi, and more - were found to have supply chain links to Brazil’s largest beef and leather exporter, JBS.

JBS has been connected to the deforestation of more than three million hectares (approximately seven million acres) of rainforest over the last decade. It was accused a number of environmental organisations of being the “largest contributor to Amazon rainforest destruction”.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, and the cattle industry has exploded in the Amazon in recent years. Since 1988, the number of cattle in the region almost quadrupled to 86 million in 2018, with some companies destroying large areas of protected rainforest to raise their livestock.

Data from the Brazilian government showed that indigenous territories in the Amazon lost 497 square kilometres between August 2018 and July 2019, 91 per cent more compared to the same period the year before.

The authors of the research, conducted by Stand.earth, said: “Although none of these brands are deliberately choosing deforestation leather, they are working with manufacturers and tanneries that source from opaque supply chains and companies that have known links to cattle raised on recently deforested Amazon land.

“The more supply chain links, the greater the chance that any individual product came from deforested Amazon rainforest land.”

Brands with multiple connections in the supply chain were deemed to be at highest risk of driving deforestation in the Amazon. These included Adidas, Clarks, Dr Martens, Ugg, Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren, and Chloe, among dozens of others.

There’s absolutely no reason why [the fashion industry] can’t roll up its sleeves and stop being an accomplice to even another inch of Amazon deforestation

Amber Valletta

The report also found that 23 out of 84 companies that have created policies not to source leather from Brazil are at risk of breaching their own policies, whilst the rest of the brands mentioned in the report have no relevant policies in place at all.

Some brands were accused of “hiding behind” the Leather Working Group (LWG), a non-profit organisation that sets the standard for responsible leather sourcing in the industry.

The report said: “While the LWG claims that it will address deforestation in the future, they currently only rate tanneries on their ability to trace leather back to slaughterhouses, not back to farms, nor do they provide any information on whether or not the slaughterhouses are linked to deforestation.

“In other words, relying on LWG certification does not guarantee deforestation-free leather supply chains.”

Commenting on the findings, Amber Valletta, sustainability editor of British Vogue, said: “Knowing there’s a direct connection between leather that makes our shoes and bags and the destruction of the Amazon really shook me.

“The fashion industry is among the most creative, powerful and influential in the world. There’s absolutely no reason why it can’t roll up its sleeves and stop being an accomplice to even another inch of Amazon deforestation.”

Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance from Brazil (APIB), also highlighted the impact that deforestation has on Indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest, calling it a “matter of life and death”.

Will [the fashion industry] stand with those who protect the forests or with those who destroy them?

Sonia Guajajara

She pointed towards Brazilian president Jay Bolsonaro, who became the first president to get rid of the government’s mandate to demarcate all Indigenous territories since 1988.

“His agenda has exponentially increased land invasions and violence against Indigenous people - a lot of it pushed by cattle ranchers,” said Guajajara.

“The fashion industry, which buys these products, has to pick a side. Will it stand with those who protect the forests or with those who destroy them?”

Stand.earth and Slow Factory, an independent research lab advocating for climate justice that collaborated on the report, called on members of the public to sign a letter demanding fashion brands and manufacturers fix the systemic flaws in their supply chains in order to stop deforestation.

The letter reads: “Scientists have warned that the Amazon rainforest is on the verge of an irreversible ecosystem collapse… If this continues, the loss of the Amazon’s enormous capacity to store carbon and generate rain could lead to catastrophic climate consequences for the entire world - in addition to devastating biodiversity loss and increased risk of zoonotic disease pandemics.”

It added: “In 2020, leather accounted for US$1.1bn of Brazilian slaughterhouse’s revenue, with 80 per cent of it going to export.

“Since fashion companies use about 70 per cent of the world’s leather, we have a tremendous responsibility - and opportunity - to contribute directly to the solutions and help bring an end to deforestation.”

Colin Vernon, co-founder of Slow Factory, added that global brands must “make sure that they can prove that their supply chains are clean, without relying on the word of their suppliers, or standards that have massive loopholes”.

“The truth is, the Amazon is being burned down to raise cattle for meat and leather, and brands have the power to stop it,” he said.

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