Global leather industry stands up against Higg sustainability index: it is all wrong

Global leather industry stands up against Higg sustainability index: it is all wrong

The alliance is as across-the-board as ever and, most of all, united. Associations representing global leather industry are part of that coalition. Among others, ICT (International Council of Tanners) and UNIC – Italian Tanneries, together with a large group of associations and confederations you will read about in the next few lines. They all have a common and urgent goal: to get the suspension of the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) as to score for leather. They submitted an official and detailed petition, which thoroughly follows and recalls, for the records, the one forwarded by other industries. For example, silk, wool and cotton industries.

Global leather industry stands up against Higg sustainability index

The MSI is a tool first launched by SAC in 2012. SAC stands for Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Its aim is to assess the sustainability of materials used by fashion industry to make clothes and accessories. The SAC released an updated version of their score index in August 2020. According to global leather industry, MSI applies to cattle leather a score which is by far illogical.

That is why they consequently decided to write an official letter sent to SAC: you can read it by clicking here.  Leather associations and councils formally asked to suspend assessment of leather and closely review methodologies and datasets on which they rely to calculate and apply the score. Here is the reason for it: all data are wrong. Besides that, they lead to a paradoxical assumption, according to which fossil-fuel derived materials are more sustainable than natural materials.

Dangerous perceptions

According to the Higg Index, leather, as pointed out in the letter signed by Kerry Senior, President of ICT (International Council of Tanners), is “burdened with a disproportionately high score”, based on the application of “inappropriate methodologies” and, in addition, “out-of-date, unrepresentative, inaccurate and incomplete data”.

Because of it, this has led to “a negative perception of leather that does not reflect its sustainable and circular nature”. It is a rather dangerous perception as meanwhile the MSI has been gaining ground: in fact, most fashion houses and brands, actively playing in the leather sector, consider it reliable. For the records, they are members (could it be otherwise?) of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

All the mistakes

Global leather industry has highlighted all the mistakes unfortunately made by SAC while drafting the Higg Materials Sustainability Index. Here they are: “use of old data (used from no later than 2013) and inaccurate data (the average lifespan of cattle is assumed to be five years, but the lifespan of a typical beef animal is usually between 12 and 36 months). Moreover, misconceptions about the tanning raw materials tanners use alongside a rather narrow geographical focus. On top of that: “Reluctance to take into account the durability and longevity of leather in assessing its environmental impact”.

Even “more troubling is the lack of transparency on the basis for the score”. Not to mention “the lack of engagement with the wider leather industry to ensure that the data is accurate”. In order to make it happen (hopefully), the signatories of this strong-worded letter have claimed their full availability to any kind “of dialogue with SAC”.

The alliance

ASHLEA (Australian Hides, Skins and Leather Exporters Association), CICB (Centro das Indústrias de Curtumes do Brasil), COTANCE (Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community), ICHSLTA (International Council of Hides, Skins and Leather Traders Association), IULTCS (International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies), UNIC – Italian Tanneries, LHCA (Leather and Hide Council of America), Leather Naturally, Leather UK, LWG (Leather Working Group), One 4 Leather and SLTC (Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists) are the leather tanning associations, councils and confederations who called for MSI suspension.

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