ENVIRONMENT

H&M, VF Corp. Ditch Brazilian Leather Over Amazon Rainforest Fires

The Swedish fashion retailer and the company behind brands like Vans and Timberland said they're banning leather from Brazil over environmental concerns.

As Brazil’s cattle industry comes under increased scrutiny for its contribution to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, two of the world’s largest fashion companies — Sweden’s H&M Group and VF Corp., the American company behind brands like Vans and Timberland — have said they’re ditching Brazilian leather.

H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer, said Friday that it would stop sourcing leather from Brazil “until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.”

“Due to the severe fires in the Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest, and the connections to cattle production, we have decided to place a temporary ban on leather from Brazil,” a spokesperson for the H&M Group told ABC News.

H&M’s ban came on the heels of a similar announcement made the week before by VF Corp., which owns several apparel and footwear brands including Dickies, Eastpak, JanSport and The North Face.

VF Corp. said in a statement that it would stop buying Brazilian leather “until we have the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country.”

The Brazilian beef and leather industry has been pinpointed as a major cause of deforestation in the Amazon and, in turn, the devastating wildfires that have been burning there for weeks. Swaths of the Amazon ― the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink and most biodiverse ecosystem ― are cut down and burned by cattle ranchers every year to make way for pasture. In Brazil, cattle ranches now cover approximately 174,000 square miles of deforested Amazon ― an area about two-thirds the size of Texas. 

Brazil exported $1.4 billion of bovine leather in 2018, Reuters reported, citing data from the country’s main leather trade group. Its largest export markets were the U.S., China and Italy.  

It remains unclear how much of an impact the Brazilian leather ban will have on H&M and VF Corp. Both companies have said they source only a small portion of their leather from Brazil. 

Still, environmentalists and others have lauded the two companies for taking a stand against the Amazon’s deforestation ― and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s apparently indifferent response to it.

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