The Amazon rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate.
Deforestation in Brazil reached a 12 year high in 2020, with over 1 million hectares of rainforest destroyed. Cattle raising is the one activity causing the most deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Operating in the shadow of beef production is the leather industry. Leather might seem like a less important biproduct of meat production.
It’s not. Leather is a billion-dollar industry that supplies the raw material for shoes, furniture and heaps of other products.
Like car seats.
Here's how you might have contributed to deforestation:
The European car industry is the second largest in the world only surpassed by Asia. Europe produced 18.6 million passenger cars in 2019 .
We have found that the top five European car manufacturers run a high risk of contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, by sourcing leather from big clients of Brazilian companies linked to large-scale deforestation.
In stark contrast to beef, little attention has been drawn to the deforestation risk of leather from cows that have grazed in the Amazon. But whilst 80 percent of Brazilian beef remains in the domestic market, as much as 80 percent of the bovine leather production in Brazil is exported.
Our report shows that the use of leather from Brazil is a high risk venture if you don’t want to contribute to deforestation. Yet, many European companies are involved in trading flows that put them at risk of contributing to vast deforestation.
By analyzing 2019 and 2020 deforestation data in the buying zones of slaughterhouses and tanneries in Brazil as well as case studies from the same areas, and connecting this to specific trading flows to manufacturers of leather components in cars in Europe, we can map out the deforestation risk of the European car industry.
We have found more than 1,1 million hectares of recent deforestation (2019 and 2020) in the buying zones of the slaughterhouses supplying the tanneries of JBS Couros, Brazil’s largest leather processing company.
The tanneries Vancouros was exposed to 0.80 mill ha of deforestation, Durlicouros to 0.56 mill ha, Fuga Couros to 0.47 mill ha, Minerva Couros to 0.48 mill ha, Viposa to 0.12 mill ha and for Mastrotto Brasil it was not possible to calculate the deforestation risk exposure.
All the top five car manufacturers are exposed to a minimum of 1,1 million hectares of recent deforestation through JBS Couros.
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The lack of traceability, from birth to slaughter, is the biggest challenge to address deforestation linked to cattle ranching in Brazil. None of the Brazilian meatpackers are able to trace their cattle back to the birth farm.
As a consequence of this, tanneries, leather producers, car component manufacturers and car manufacturers, also lack tools to trace their hides back to their origin.
No available documentation or statement indicates that any of the big car manufacurers have adequate policies or measures in place to avoid deforestation leather from entering the supply chain.
But they have a responsibility to fix it.