Chrome VI and carbon footprints on the agenda

8 January 2014

The recent Leather Working Group meeting, held in Bologna, Italy, was attended by 75 delegates from around the world. The meeting, which was kindly sponsored by Stahl International BV, addressed a range of issues aimed at both integrating new members and informing all members about developments since the previous meeting.

LWG membership, which is made up of global brands, suppliers and leather manufacturers, continues to grow, with new brands and suppliers as well as a steady growth in audits and around 148 leather manufacturers live in the programme. There is a wide geographic spread of leather manufacturers, with a significant increase in Brazil since the last meeting, although Asia still represents about two thirds of audit coverage.
LWG is managed by an Executive Committee (EC) and comprises three brands, three tanners and one chemical supplier. These are elected from the membership and reflect the sectors representing overall LWG membership. Following a recent election, the LWG Executive Committee now includes representatives from adidas-group, Clarks International Ltd, ISA TanTec, JBS SA, Lanxess Deutschland GmbH, Sadesa SA and Timberland LLC.
Vanessa Margolis, who had been the originator of the concept of the LWG in 2004 when she worked for Nike and more recently had represented Tong Hong Tannery on the EC, was thanked for all the time, effort and direction she had given to the group during its development.
The new EC chairperson is Rick LaTouch representing Timberland LCC. The changeover for the supplier sector will be from spring 2014 when Buckman Laboratories Inc will take over from Lanxess Deutschland GmbH.
Brand members are important drivers within the LWG and the results of a survey on brand engagement in the programme showed that responses differed in relation to how long brands had been involved in the LWG, with founding members and new members at different stages of engagement. This was reinforced by views expressed by brand representatives at the meeting. The overall positive response provided tangible reassurance for leather manufacturers that brands were engaged and using the tool in their supply chain.
A regional meeting held in Brazil in August, kindly organised by JSB SA and supported by Buckman Laboratories Inc and CICB, provided an opportunity for the growing number of members in Brazil to interact with EC members and respond to questions on different aspects of LWG activities.
Protocol 5 has now been in force since December 2010 and, taking into consideration the experience gained using this assessment tool and the LWG philosophy of incremental improvement over time, Protocol 6 will continue to drive improved performance in the leather industry. Following two years of intensive work on Protocol 6, including extensive input from LWG members, this is now reaching the final stages. Target dates for Protocol 6 are:
- publication on March 31, 2014, when the official English version will be available on the LWG website together with translations in Chinese, Italian, Portuguese (BR) and Spanish
- implementation from October 1, 2014, when all audits will be conducted against Protocol 6 which will be in force for three years. Minor modifications could be made to the document during this period to address any anomalies or specific requirements identified.
Traceability is an important element in the supply chain and has a separate rating system in the protocol. Members were reminded of the requirements regarding the identification of the source of materials, with particular reference to the extra criteria applied in Brazil.
Currently, in Protocol 5.2.3. small skins and splits are exempt from the supplier rating process. However, it is proposed to include them in Protocol 6.
This is a challenging area, particularly where splits are purchased from traders, which can be a complex process with associated confidentiality issues. A case study had identified different types of trader and two different sites were assessed by LWG approved auditors to see how they operate. It was concluded that split traders could be brought into the programme by means of a mini audit that can be created using existing sections of the protocol.
With deforestation remaining high on NGO agendas, Nathalie Walker, a guest speaker from the National Wildlife Federation, gave a detailed presentation on the Forest Code in Brazil and its significance in relation to deforestation.
Walker also spoke about the progress and upcoming plans of GRSB-GTPS Joint Working Group on Forests, whose primary objective was to bring people together to discuss how to achieve common ground on deforestation. Amongst the next steps are a workshop in Brazil in November 2013 and the GRSB-GTPS Global Conference in Brazil in August 2014.
Another high profile topic is the safe use of chemicals by the global apparel and footwear industry and LWG members were given an update on work being carried out. The zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) initiative continued to grow and the full list of participants was available on the website ( The challenges faced by the group and progress to date are also published on the website, along with details of the Joint Roadmap Version 2 established in June 2013, which includes seven basic goals to achieve by 2020, guiding principles and agreement on steps to move forward.
For the first time LWG supplier members held a separate meeting to discuss and brainstorm areas of particular interest to their sector. This is especially important with regard to questions relating to machinery technology and chemistry and there are several topics that supplier members would like to discuss and then share their collective views with the wider membership. It is for this very reason that the supplier members have a permanent member on the EC and it was agreed that a more prominent role will be given to supplier members at LWG meetings.
Members played an active part in the meeting which offered the opportunity to raise questions and share views. Topical issues included discussion of chrome VI, Biocidal Products Regulations (BPR), carbon footprint for leather, support by chemical suppliers for REACH and SVHCs in relation to the ZDHC initiative and the roles of the different LWG membership sectors.
The next meeting is planned for Thursday April 3, 2014 (the day after APLF 2014) at a venue in/near Hong Kong.

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