“Every year the global leather industry slaughters more than one billion animals for their skins. Leather commonly comes from cattle and calves, and from other animals who are slaughtered for meat such as horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. Wild animals are also hunted for their skins. Kangaroos can also be commercially shot purely for their skins in Western Australia and Queensland (skin-only commercial hunting is banned in other Australian jurisdictions). Other species hunted worldwide for their skins include zebras, boars, elephants, crocodiles, and lizards.”
Many of these animals suffer all the horrors of factory farming—including extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, and unanesthetized castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning—as well as cruel treatment during transport and slaughter. Leather is normally not labeled. You never really know where (or whom) it came from. Much leather comes from developing countries such as India and China, where animal welfare laws are either non-existent or not enforced.
“Until the late 1800s, animal skin was air- or salt-dried and tanned with vegetable tannins or oil, but today, animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of which are cyanide-based. Most leather produced in the U.S. and around the world is chrome-tanned. All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency … Among the consequences of this noxious waste is the threat to human health from the highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the groundwater near tanneries.”
- There are many alternatives to leather, including cotton, linen, rubber, ramie, canvas, and synthetics. Chlorenol (called “Hydrolite” by Avia and “Durabuck” by Nike) is a material that is perforated for breathability and is used in athletic and hiking shoes. It stretches around the foot with the same “give” as leather, gives good support, and is machine-washable.
- Remember that many of the alternatives on offer compromise the environment in various ways. Look for polyurethane-based materials rather than PVC. PVC is not degradable, involves production using toxic additives and emits carcinogenic dioxin when incinerated.
- See Alternatives to Leather at the Animals Australia Unleashed Faux Shopping Guide