In 2013 a group of experts from the Dutch leather industry gathered to run a project under the lead of MVO Nederland (the leading Dutch Non-governmental organisation specializing in sustainability).

The groups main concern was the fact that Dutch consumers often have no clue if the leather article they purchased originated from a sustainable source. This word, ”sustainable”, was also triggering other concerns, like ‘can a leather which is made with respect for the environment but produced under poor labour conditions be labelled sustainable’? And ‘does a tannery or shoe manufacturer in the Indian sub-continent, Africa or another country know what is important to a Dutch consumer’?

It is these questions, which led to the idea of developing a sustainability tool which could be used by tanneries, or by fashion brands, importing leather goods from these countries. Also, a tool which should start a debate about sustainability and help to develop the value supply chain, making it more transparent, clean and safe.

Over 2 years, many hours have been invested by different volunteers from the Netherlands to set up an easy to understand tool which should touch many different topics important to consumers when they buy their shoes, bags or any other leather article. Contributions have come from NGO’s, tanneries, chemical companies, department store chains, start ups and leather specialists.

The boundaries that have been set in the development process included:

  1. It should be easy to understand
  2. Easy to fill in
  3. Be a conversation starter
  4. Accessible to everyone
  5. Offer links to re-sources which can help improvement

But it was also decided that it should not be an auditing tool and not compete with one of the best initiatives in the leather industry ‘the Leather Working Group’.

As such, the tool has been set up to address three areas (each with different topics, totalling 14), being:

  • Business Operations
  • The Environment
  • Workers’ Rights

Once the draft of the ‘Tannery of the Future – sustainability tool’ was ready, it was piloted by volunteers at tanneries in Bangladesh and India, amongst others. Initial feedback from tanners included remarks like: ‘good to have this tool and to understand what European consumers want’, or ‘thank you for your support, because we know that we need to improve but do not know how’.

Finally, after the tannery pilot projects completed, the final adjustments have been made and the introduction of this Sustainability Tool was made to the industry from the end of 2015.

We are proud to receive financial support from TEGEWA members, consisting of the world’s leading chemical companies from Germany and the Netherlands, who consider it a shared responsibility to join forces in making the leather value chain largely sustainable.

In a series of articles, we will introduce the different topics of the ‘Tannery of the Future – sustainability tool’ in more details.

Please do get in touch with us to implement the tool, and thus take responsibility to make the leather industry cleaner, fairer and safer.

With best regards,

Board Tannery of the Future Foundation

Antoinette Gast, Hans Both, Frans Tilstra, Egbert Dikkers

You can download the checklist for free on their website. You can also visit their business listing on Total Shoe Concept here

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