Leather, lawyers and the media

16 November 2009

Love them or hate them, lawyers have been become an everyday part of the international leather business. As with any profession some have the best intentions for us while others seem set on an agenda of exploiting loopholes and going after easy targets to make a quick buck. Added to this, certain elements of the press look to sensationalise stories without properly looking at the science or background and often tanners are made to look like nasty polluters.

As reported in Leather International last month (page 10) media reports regarding the lawsuit being brought against Prime Tanning’s former site in St Joseph now owned by National Beef is a good case in point. When non-industry people read quotes such as ‘alleging that farmers were spreading sludge containing high levels of chromium VI’ or ‘hexavalent chromium was used at the plant to remove hair from hides during the tanning process’ it falsely makes the tanner and leather seem like a bad neighbour or a toxic product. For this reason and others Nalle Johansson, president of Cotance (below) and Paul Pearson, secretary of the ICT (page 12), in response to Ron Sauer’s seminar report (May page 30), call for greater finance and cohesion within the industry to fight adverse publicity and damage to the ‘brand leather’.
Clearly, we will have to follow the legal proceedings issued against Prime and National Beef and further comment needs to be left until the outcome of the case becomes public.
On the contrary to the sensational headlines, the media can be used to help the industry whether it be through the promotion of leather as a product or as in the case of this edition of the magazine to assist in weeding-out bad practice in the industry and in the process enhance leather made safely and ethically.
On page 15, Richard Langton, partner for the legal firm representing consumers involved with the class action against retailers in the dimethyl fumarate (DMF) – toxic sofa story has written an article for us. In the article he sets out the legal context behind the group action and, importantly, appeals to us in the leather industry to blow the whistle on what may turn out to be yet more bad practice and use of substandard products and processes occurring in tanneries. In Langton’s professional experience the number of consumers with adverse reactions to leather appears to suggest that other substances found in products may be having adverse reactions on consumers but are not connected with DMF. I did suggest to him that some people will be allergic to chrome and other safe compounds in leather and that some consumers will use the class action to try and get a payout. He said that they had put in all the necessary ‘checks and balances’ when vetting complaints and yet an additional 3,000 cases had been received where they could not identify the cause.
It now appears that adverse reactions by consumers to leather products made in China have now been reported throughout Europe ‘to generate more adverse publicity for the leather industry’ and as he also points out ‘all those involved should take heed how easily their reputation can be affected.’

Please email any of your comments and suggestions on this or any other topic to me at mricker@leathermag.com

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