India’s new cattle laws threaten a $5.6 billion industry that supplies to Armani and M&S

Bovine concerns.
Bovine concerns.
Image: Reuters/Parth Sanyal
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

India’s recent move to ban cattle slaughter could be bad news for the country’s massive leather exports business.

On May 27, the environment ministry notified a clampdown on the sale and purchase of cattle (including cows, bulls, buffaloes, bullocks, calves, heifers, steers, and camels) at animal fairs and livestock markets.

The move is likely to cause a shortage of raw material and impact the supply chain for India’s Rs37,688 crore ($5.6 billion) leather export business that counts Marks and Spencer, Inditex (owner of Zara), Mango, Kenneth Cole, and Armani, among others, as key buyers.

The industry uses a lot of buffalo hide, particularly to make footwear which constitutes nearly half of all leather exports from the country. India is also the world’s second-largest leather garments exporter, according to the Council for Leather Exports, an association of leather traders. The industry employs some 2.5 million workers.

“There will be tough times ahead and business will basically shift to other countries such as China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam,” said Raman Kumar Juneja, regional chairman for eastern India at the Council for Leather Exports. “Everyone is concerned. Clients and international buyers are calling their vendors to take stock of the situation.”

Although the industry has inventory that’ll last a couple of months, traders could face a shortage of raw material for the upcoming winter season when Indian manufacturers typically work overtime to fulfil international orders.

“I received a call from the London office of Marks & Spencer,” Mohammed Zia Nafis, president of finished leather goods at the Council of Leather Exports, told the Times of India newspaper. “The official asked me how we were going to fulfil the export commitment in view of the notification. I tried my best to assure them. But I doubt they were convinced. Other brands like Gucci, Zara, and Nine West have also started inquiries.”

However, a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said that “We do not use Indian cow leather in any of our products and have not for over 15 years.”

Leather exporters claim they were not consulted before the government drafted new rules that regulate cattle slaughter. So, they are now making recommendations to the central and state governments to modify the newly laid rules, especially the exclusion of buffaloes from the clause.

Amid the turmoil, however, some industry leaders are confident that they’ll be able to thrash out a solution. ”There isn’t much to panic about, the industry has three months to prepare and find alternatives and assess the impact,” said Aqeel Panaruna, vice-chairman of the Council for Leather Exports. “We are hoping the government will exclude the use of buffalo out of the rules.”