According to Brazilian law, meat production facilities are subject to government inspection, to ensure compliance with food safety and hygiene standards. However, these requirements do not extend to non-food items, such as hides and leather. The relative lack of controls on hide/leather production has helped facilitate a clandestine market for these products.
The clandestine market can be estimated by comparing the total number of hides processed with the total number of reported head of cattle slaughtered.38 As indicated by the figure, the number of hides produced is consistently greater than the total reported number of cattle slaughtered, providing an estimate of the clandestine market. Although the number of unregistered slaughters has steadily decreased over the past several years, leather tanneries still processed almost 2.5 million hides in 2015 that could not be attributed to documented cattle slaughter.
Due to the relative lack of controls on hide/leather production, it is likely that these clandestine hides enter legitimate markets, both domestically in Brazil and as exports to leather producing countries, such as Italy and China. Because their origins are undocumented, this means that handbags, shoes, upholstery, or other leather goods may have potentially been produced on recently deforested land or using slave labor. The Leather Working Group (LWG), a multi-stakeholder group whose members include some of the world’s largest footwear and fashion brands, has developed an environmental auditing protocol. This protocol requests traceability back to slaughterhouse (which can avoid purchase of hides originating from clandestine slaughter), and hides from animals originating in the Brazilian Amazon should be traceable to a ranch with no post-2009 deforestation (in line with the G4 Zero Deforestation Cattle Agreement described in Chapter 3).
In order to ensure that leather products are not contributing to the loss of forests, and human rights violations or other illegalities, procurement should be limited, exclusively, to meatpackers which have implemented systems for monitoring and traceability for verified zero deforestation production.