In June, when European citizens were reflecting on their vote and who will be sitting in the next European Parliament, Cotance member associations and their tanners gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their common representative body.

Cotance has been representing the leather industry and its interests at European and international level since 1969. This celebration, besides being a moment of festivity, was an occasion to pause and reflect on this journey, and at the same time, to look to the future of the European leather industry.

‘European Leather for the Future’ was indeed the leading thread of the event, from the welcoming speeches by Jérôme Verdier, president of tannery ALRAN SAS and the French Federation of Tanners (FFTM), and Wollsdorf CEO Andreas Kindermann, the current president of Cotance, to the views of Anna Athanasopoulou, head of tourism, emerging and creative industries at the European Commission, and Maria Teresa Pisani from the Economic Cooperation and Trade Division at UNECE.

“Cotance serves as a shield,” said Kindermann. “In all these years which have passed, we have seen many successes, also some failures, highs and lows, times of booming business and times of crisis. But the European leather industry is resilient. It never gave up and cooperation was decisive.”

Future priorities

Athanasopoulou reminded the audience how “sustainability, smart investments, innovation, fair competition and skills are the main keywords in the current European policy for industry”.

These priorities are highly relevant in order for a robust EU leather industry to remain sustainable and globally competitive, and continue holding a strategic position in international markets.

“The European Commission promotes different types of interventions in order to create a favourable environment for growth, [such] as direct funding, instruments to stimulate investments in research, innovation, sustainability and skills, as well as new initiatives for the establishment of industrial clusters,” said Athanasopoulou. “In working together, SMEs can be more innovative, create more jobs and register more international trademarks than they would alone.”

In her keynote speech, Chiara Morelli, group operations and sustainability manager at luxury group Kering, emphasised how collaboration among the different actors in the leather supply chain is key and at the core of Kering’s activities with suppliers. This approach can strengthen the industry’s value, and will enable tanners to strive for innovation and more sustainable processes.

Besides working on reducing carbon emissions and the use of hazardous substances, according to Morelli the leather industry should strengthen cooperation with farms and slaughterhouses in terms of animal welfare with the aim of improving the traceability of hides and skins, and supply chain transparency.

In her 2018 research project entitled ‘Enhancing Transparency and Traceability for Sustainable Textile and Leather Value Chains’, Pisani shows that transparency and traceability are emerging priorities that will allow the industry to achieve more responsible production and consumption patterns. This initiative aims to establish a multi-stakeholder platform, and develop policy recommendations, global traceability standards and implementation guidelines for sustainable textile and leather value chains.

Drawing conclusions from the event, Kindermann emphasised that sustainability is a priority of Cotance – as had been demonstrated by the setting at EU level of rules for calculating the environmental footprint of leather – and that the European leather industry, with its high standards, is well positioned for the future to further improve environmental performance towards the ultimate goal of zero waste.