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Corporate social responsibility in the leather industry

About this essay

This essay highlights a number of prominent examples of corporate social responsibility in action in the global tanning industry. The examples come from the four programmes of the the Tannery of the Year programme. Tannery of the Year was launched by World Leather magazine in 2009 to highlight and celebrate examples of good practice in the global leather industry, with the emphasis on corporate social responsibility. The reasoning was that highly innovative and responsible makers of leather deserved to have a platform for sharing their successes in areas such as caring for the environment, looking after their workers and their families, engaging openly and positively with their neighbours and with local and national authorities, and maintaining a high level of commitment to innovation and to partnership with suppliers and customers alike.

This essay tackles the following misrepresentations:

Myth: Tanners make leather without any consideration for the environment, for the safety and well-being of their workers or for the communities with which they share resources.
Fact: The Tannery of the Year programme has reported since 2009 countless examples of leather producers that care deeply about all aspects of corporate social responsibility.

Executive summary

It has become fairly commonplace for campaign groups and politicians to point the finger of blame for any environmental problem at tanneries, whenever possible. There are documented examples of a tannery in northern Europe being blamed over a substantial period of time in local media for a foul smell that, in the end, was traced to a fruit-juice plant, and of a campaign from non-governmental organisations in Latin America to blame tanners operating today for 100-year-old contamination in saturated soil in a local river basin. In 2012, a television company in Argentina launched a new soap opera called Sos Mi Hombre (You Are My Man), in which a young doctor uncovers high levels of sickness among children in a poor urban community and traces it to a local tannery. Parents are too frightened to speak out because the tannery is the main source of employment in the area. It was total fiction, but good box office.

Meanwhile, in the real world, tanners from all parts of the world have been open and generous enough to allow World Leather’s editorial team to spend two days inside their facilities, watching close up every aspect of their operations, while talking to them in depth about the work they do in their communities, the measures they have put in place to safeguard their workers’ well-being and prosperity and their intense commitment to innovation. They work closely with their suppliers and their customers to keep bringing to market a beautiful, quality, high-value material.

This essay gives details of the ideas tanners around the world have come up with to be good corporate citizens. Some are simple, some more elaborate, but all have made a difference to workers and the communities with which they share resources.

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