Ecological integrity is a burden which European manufacturers and tanners must shoulder. At a discussion session on the impact of ecological issues for the fashion industry, Roberto Briccola, president of Mipel, said it was necessary for European traders to take the lead when dealing with ‘supplier countries’.

Elaborating in an interview with Leather, he said the issues were complex because social conscience, respect for the law and producer pressures were often at odds. ‘I think we can be proud of our achievements in regulating trading practices in Europe’, he said. ‘But what of other countries in the developing world?

‘As a major producer of leathergoods my own company makes a point of stressing the long term issues. For example, when we buy from China, we try and put pressure on the manufacturers there to improve conditions for the workers.’

He pointed out that improved working conditions often resulted in ecological benefits and responsible manufacturers had just as much interest in this as outside pressure groups. Agreement up the line with tanners and downline with consumers must be the preferred way of seeking improvements. Turning one’s back on problems was not the responsible attitude.

‘Sometimes the solution can be simple. For example, we have changed from specifying solvent-based to water-based glues. But again, when people complained four years ago that we should switch from pvc to pu materials, we found that the consumers did not want to pay for the more expensive alternative. Perhaps, if we made consumers more aware of the issues then we wouldn’t have the problem.’