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Smoke rises in thick clouds from the Amazon rainforest
Reuters/Ricardo Moraes
A burned tract of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
BURNING ISSUE

The Amazon fires prompt H&M, Vans and Timberland to stop buying Brazilian leather

By Marc Bain

People clearing land for cattle ranches are likely the culprits behind the devastating fires burning large swaths of the Amazon rainforest. These ranches don’t just produce Brazil’s beef. They’re also a source of the country’s valuable leather exports.

Worried by the link, the US parent company of footwear and clothing brands such as Vans, Timberland, The North Face, Dickies, Kipling, and many more, says it will no longer buy leather and hides directly from Brazil.

The Brazilian outlet Folha de São Paulo reported (link in Portuguese) that the company, VF Corp., informed the Center for the Brazilian Tanning Industry that it would suspend leather purchases from the country on account of the fires. The president of the Brazilian trade group conveyed his concern about the decision in a letter sent to Brazil’s minister of agriculture.

VF Corp. said in a statement to Quartz that the amount of leather it procures from Brazil is minimal. However, it can no longer ensure that this leather complies with its responsible sourcing requirements. “Therefore, VF Corporation and our brands have decided to no longer directly source leather and hides from Brazil for our international businesses until we have the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country,” it said.

On Sep. 5, H&M also announced that it would stop buying leather from Brazil over concerns about deforestation, the New York Times reports.

How Brazil’s sizable leather exports contribute to Amazon deforestation has been scrutinized before. In 2009, Greenpeace published an investigation on companies “laundering” beef and hides from Amazon slaughterhouses through lengthy supply chains. These products wound up exported around the world, prompting companies such as Nike to take steps to ensure they weren’t using materials linked to the Amazon’s deforestation.

The ongoing fires are returning the issue to the spotlight. The advocacy group Fashion Revolution, for instance, has called for brands to be transparent about how they source leather from Brazil and what they’re doing to make sure it isn’t connected to Amazon cattle ranches.

It can be difficult, though, for brands to trace the history of their materials beyond their direct suppliers, as Vogue Business recently pointed out. To be safe, VF Corp. has chosen to halt buying from Brazil entirely.

But even that route may offer no guarantee, as supply chains today often criss-cross multiple countries. A report (pdf) by Amazon Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting the rainforest and its indigenous people, provided an example. A subsidiary of a large slaughterhouse and cattle raising company in Brazil, which had been fined for illegal deforestation in the Amazon, supplied leather to several Italian tanneries from 2017 to 2018. Those tanneries supplied finished leather to at least one international brand. Recently, the environmental organization Global Canopy also warned companies that suppliers in China—Brazil’s largest export market for cattle products—could be selling them beef or leather connected to the Amazon’s destruction. It cautioned them to be diligent about tracing the source of their materials.

This story was updated to include H&M’s announcement.