The environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry are often most associated with high-street fashion. But some of the most influential companies in forest-risk supply chains are in fact in the luxury goods market. LVMH, Prada, Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Ugg all have one thing in common: their potential role in the Amazon’s deforestation.
New research on the complex global supply chains of the fashion industry has shown the sector's implication in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest due to its connections with tanneries and other companies involved in the production of leather goods in the area. The report, published by the NGO Stand.earth, put in the spotlight more than 80 fashion brands, among the most famous in the world, and their multiple links with leather exporting companies known precisely for their impact on deforestation of Amazonia.
The study claimed that 6.7 million hectares of forest were lost in the Amazon biome in the last decade (2011-2020), and identifies JBS, the largest beef/leather company in Brazil, as one of the largest contributors to deforestation in that area. Various pieces of evidence gathered over the years seem to link JBS to cattle supplied by a farm in the Amazon, which was sanctioned for illegal deforestation.
These data do not demonstrate a direct link between the fashion brands analyzed and the deforestation of the Amazon. However, the findings contradict and directly question the policies recently announced by a number of brands included in the report. Of the 84 companies analyzed, 23 (including Coach, LVMH, Prada, H&M, Zara, Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Ugg and Fendi) have explicit policies against deforestation. However, the researchers believe, based on their findings, that those 23 companies are likely violating their policies, as links have been identified with JBS and other tanneries and producers who have links to deforestation in Brazil. The results therefore cast doubt on corporate commitments. For example, fashion house LVMH was found to have a high risk of links to Amazon deforestation, despite the fact that earlier this year the brand had pledged with UNESCO to protect this vulnerable region.
Given that a third of the companies analyzed have some kind of policy in place regarding sustainability, I expected that this would have some kind of [positive] impact on deforestation. I couldn't be more disappointed to note that the opposite is true. The rate of deforestation is increasing, and the policies have no real effect. They are just a mild attempt at greenwashing.
According to the latest estimates, to meet consumer demand for leather wallets, bags and shoes, the fashion industry will have to slaughter 430 million cows a year by 2025. Much of the leather in accessories and clothes we have in our wardrobes comes from cattle raised in the Amazon rainforest. Livestock farming is considered one of the main causes of deforestation, as trees are destroyed to transform the land into grazing areas (53 million hectares destroyed in the Amazon basin in 2017, compared to 14 million in 1985, according to the Mapbiomas platform, which deals with the annual mapping of land use and consumption in Brazil).
This is not the place to digress on a topic as comprehensive as the consequences of the fashion industry on our planet. Deep down, I’m sure, we all know it. That is why I want to conclude my article with one, simple and personal recommendation: buy less, better and only from virtuous supply chains. You’ll feel better, you’ll look better and you’ll do something good for the planet.
Written by Paige Trimbly