Dutch retailer to track source of leather

15 April 2010

The Forest Trust (TFT) and the Macintosh Retail Group announced on March 23 the launch of a new initiative that will use production of ‘green’ footwear, bedding, flooring and textiles to fight slash-and-burn cattle ranching that are decimating rain forests and damaging the environment. Trading under the names Brantano, Scapino, Dolcis, Manfield, Invito, PRO, Kwantum, and others the Macintosh Retail Group says it has agreed to allow TFT, an independent non-profit charity, to take a selection of its shoes, bags, furniture and other products and pull them apart, identifying every component and follow it back to its source to find a way to produce the company’s products legally and sustainably.

‘We are committed to using the systems originally developed by TFT to monitor wood supply chains to become the only major retailer in Europe to offer independently-verified forest responsible shoes, clothing and home products’, said Eric Coorens, chief operating officer of the Macintosh Retail Group, which serves 200 million consumers a year at 1,249 stores in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and France.
TFT have developed a sophisticated tracking system that allows its member companies, including retailers such as B&Q in the UK, Kwantum in the Netherlands, France’s Castorama and Leroy Merlin, and the US’s Crate and Barrel, to verify that the tropical wood products they purchase come from sustainable or legal sources. The charity will now turn its expertise to doing the same thing for other consumer products including footwear.
‘We will be able to ensure that cows, goats and pigs that supply the leather industry have not been grazing on illegally cleared land’, said Scott Poynton, executive director of TFT. ‘But the average shoe has many other environmental issues we’ve been asked to address such as the chemicals used in the tanning process, and seriously nasty glues that are used to make shoes, bags and other products. Also, what about labour conditions in the factories? Macintosh, its leadership and its board of directors have taken the lead by committing their firm to transforming their supply chain, and in the case of leather, working with new farmers who are willing and able to produce the leather legally.’
Poynton noted the intention of all concerned to be ‘transparent’ about progress in producing a ‘green’ shoe. ‘We don’t want to bring a product to market as a responsible product, when it’s not,’ Poynton said. ‘We’re delighted that Macintosh Retail Group is willing to draw on consumer power to fight illegal and irresponsible deforestation, and to extend their commitment to a range of products,’ Poynton added. ‘Most people don’t associate shoe leather with deforestation, but much of the leather sold in the world today comes from cattle grazed in pastures carved out of millions of hectares of irreplaceable rainforest.’
The ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ report from Greenpeace found that cattle ranching occupies about 80 percent of the 70 million of hectares of rainforest that has been cleared in the Amazon basin. Most of that ranching drives a lucrative trade in meat products but leather is a major money-maker as well. For example, in 2008, leather accounted for about one quarter of Brazil’s US$6.9 billion cattle trade.
Coorens noted that his company cannot alone reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing shoes and other goods. He called on his colleagues throughout industry to join the movement he hopes to start in working with TFT.  
Under the agreement with Macintosh, TFT will set up systems for tracing and verifying the sources for components of shoes and other products sold by the company, helping to ensure the consumer goods contain only sustainably-produced raw materials.
Poynton said: ‘It’s about working down the supply chain, step by step, until we find how something has been produced and where, and whether they are producing the product legally and sustainably.’

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