The CLIA has had a major role in guiding and supporting the recent huge growth in the leather sector. At the celebratory dinner on the evening of September 1, the key personnel of the CLIA were in much demand from the key characters of the Chinese leather sector. CLIA has clearly had a major role in moving the industry forward and now with 20 years’ experience, the next challenge will be to manage/support an industry in transformation.
The Chinese leather sector is currently undergoing many changes (as is well known, tax and environmental changes are posing great challenges). The theme of environmental change was clear at this conference with several presentations on environmental performance and improving the situation over the coming years.
Madame Zhang, president of the CLIA, and her team have a good track record to date and there was abundant evidence in this conference that the Chinese industry will fight to meet the coming challenges. Although production and environmental costs are rising, environmental pressures and challenges to improve their performance are increasing and labour is becoming harder to find in some of the tannery zones.
Madam Zhang was insistent that the Chinese leather sector has a positive future, even with the current difficulties China still has key advantages and it remains for the tanners and Chinese entrepreneurs to exploit this in the future.
Day one of the conference was delivered in Chinese but day two presentations were delivered in the main in English and were simultaneously translated. It was obvious from the number of delegates snapping photos of the screen to gather technical and environmental information that the selection of speakers ‘hit the spot’ for the local audience. China is still hungry for technical information, facts and figures relating to environmental and restricted substance performance.
Presentions relating to both REACH (which continues to be of interest in the Asia Pacific Region) and meeting the requirements of legislation in Europe were made. Large parts of the presentations covered a wide range of mainly European legislation regarding restricted substances in leather. This continues to be a difficult and rapidly changing topic and the audience were kept busy taking notes on the myriad of potential requirements that are either in place or coming in the future.
Carl Flach made a presentation on behalf of ISA president Tom Schneider, concerning the LITE programme. LITE stands for ‘Low Impact To the Environment’. Isa Tantec have developed a methodology that measures the carbon emissions from each stage of the leather making process; in their words ‘A Branded sustainable technology for manufacturing energy efficient products’. Isa Tantec are clearly passionate about improving leather production from an environmental impact perspective.
They are not saying that zero emissions are possible but that minimising emissions – little by little – is the way forward. Energy consumption is the key factor and the LITE programme focuses on this. Carl Flach made the point clearly that while investment of money and time are essential, genuine cost savings can result from the effort.
David Bowles (director of foreign affairs, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) had been working in and with China for many years. Bowles presented some background to the global perspective on animal welfare, outlining that the quality of our raw material will be improved with improved animal welfare.
Case studies were presented. The situation in China is changing, perspectives on animal welfare in China are very similar to those expressed in Europe, ie the consumer is both becoming increasingly aware of animal rights and wishing to purchase product from humane supply chains. The pet population in China is growing at 10%, another clear sign that Asian households are perceiving animals as part of the family and increasing awareness that will demand animals are well cared for in the future. A well cared for animal produces better quality leather – a win/win situation for the leather sector.
Ian Spalding (representing Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America) gave a presentation on how improvements in corporate social responsibility issues can be improved. He believes that transparency, trust and improved working relationships are critical to improving the situation in the future. In the current climate of change, this becomes both more important and more challenging!
Mark Chatwood of Stahl presented current trends in the automotive sector. Chatwood’s message was clear. If you wish to perform well in the auto sector, a tannery needs to be technically very competent and in it for the long haul. He presented excellent data to show countries around the world who had entered the auto sector only to leave it a short time later as it proved to be ‘too difficult’.
Chatwood was also clear on this point: the high quality end of the auto sector is safe from competition and will continue to prosper. However, this represents only 20% of the market. The middle part is rather small, leaving a major sector (the lower quality) which is very price sensitive and open to competition from non leather materials. Non leathers which now breathe and are continuously improving in performance will offer a real challenge to the presence of leather in car seating in the future.
This was a very successful event with nearly 400 delegates attending. The conference not only celebrated twenty years of CLIA support for the Chinese leather sector but continued to bring the future challenges to the industry to improve awareness. Whatever the future, the Chinese leather producing sector cannot work in isolation. If it does not continually rise to the challenges (whether environmental or fiscal) then China will see capacity move to other locations. A regular forum such as this to present the issues and provide solutions is important for the local industry and it was clear from the level of support that it was well appreciated.