The issue reached a peak when a surge of rainforest fires in Brazil last summer raised questions of whether brands and retailers that purchased Brazilian leather were inadvertently contributing to environmental harm. With few credible assurance systems in place, most scrambled to get answers from their suppliers. H&M and VF Corp., which owns The North Face and Timberland, ended up banning all leather from Brazil.
“Certifications gave us the standards for sustainable leather, but they can’t monitor what happens at every step of a company’s leather supply chain,” said Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of Sourcemap, a New York-based supply-chain transparency company that uses software to help businesses visualize hot spots and measure and manage risk. “What makes leather difficult to trace is that cows—unlike cotton or viscose—move around a lot before they’re processed into leather. And companies that buy leather are not accustomed to tracking every step in the life of the cows they buy.”
In June, Sourcemap rolled out the Responsible Leather Platform, a cloud-based tool that maps hides and skins across the apparel, footwear and automotive supply chains and ensures that the leather is sourced without contributing to deforestation.
The software builds on existing frameworks, including Sourcemap’s existing supply-chain mapping software, which helps identify suppliers, and industry-specific protocols from the likes of the Leather Working Group to benchmark facilities according to best practices. Sourcemap then validates the data, mapping the results against satellite imagery of deforestation in real time and best-available risk probability heat maps to monitor whether a supplier might be encroaching on a forest or biodiversity hotspot.
Businesses can also use the tool to reconcile “every transaction, delivery, receipt and certiﬁcate” in one automated platform with built-in auditor access, making visible what was hitherto shrouded or fragmented.
“What the Responsible Leather Platform offers is a data-driven approach to mapping and monitoring every facility in a leather supply chain, from ranches to slaughterhouses and tanneries and beyond, so that any data that could indicate a heightened risk of non-compliance is quickly and clearly flagged and the appropriate follow-up actions are taken in real time,” Bonanni said.
While fashion brands are looking for ways to source leather sustainability, the “real leaders,” he said, are doing it because they believe in a sustainable supply chain. Not to mention the tool makes it “easier than ever” for companies to disclose their supply-chain footprint and gain the trust and goodwill of consumers who are becoming increasingly cautious about the provenance of the products they buy.
“Transparency and traceability are competitive differentiators,” Bonanni said. “The sooner you start mapping your supply chain, the sooner you’ll be able to talk about it and use it to set your brand apart from the rest—and the better you’ll be able to sleep at night.”
What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?
“Raw material traceability. The biggest social and environmental risks in any supply chain happen in the first mile: at the farms, the forests, the mines that supply raw materials. It’s time to start tracing raw materials from the source to ensure that fashion supports sustainable livelihoods for communities at every stage of the supply chain.”
For more on Sustaining Voices, which celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action, visit sustainingvoices.com.