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The Leather Buyers Platform: a collaborative approach to protecting the Ganges

 

The Ganges is one of the world’s iconic rivers, and its home to over 650 million people, making it the most populous river basin in the world. But it’s not just people who rely on this mighty river, it’s also home to a number of incredible species including Ganges river dolphins, gharials (a specialist fish-eating crocodile) the smooth coated otter, freshwater turtles and the golden mahseer. Sadly, the Ganges is in trouble; pollution is a huge concern with both domestic and industrial water use contributing to the issue. Read on to find out what we’re doing about it…

Back in 2016, the BBC produced a news piece on the impact the leather industry has on the Ganges River, and I wrote a blog outlining our plans to tackle the issue. A lot of the leather we buy in the UK is produced along the banks of the Ganges. You can find out more about India’s leather industry in our new infographic.

Today, we’re really excited to launch our Leather Buyers Platform, a group of UK fashion and equestrian businesses, who are working with us to improve the sustainability of leather production in India to protect this precious river.

Inside a tannery in India © James Lovick/TinderflintInside a tannery in India © James Lovick/Tinderflint

Platform membership has grown since the work began in 2016 and it now includes well known fashion brands such as ASOS, John Lewis, Matalan and Next, equestrian companies including Shires Equestrian and Vale Brothers, and finance and trade associations including HSBC and the British Retail Consortium. The combined influence of these businesses and WWF is enabling us to take a number of actions to protect the Ganges including:

  • Developing a bespoke assessment for small tanneries to enable businesses to work with their smaller suppliers to understand how practices could be improved and benchmarking progress over time;
  • Assessing 40 tanneries in Kanpur (a regional leather cluster) for their clean technology and water management practices, then working with a subset of this group to support them to improve their practices;
  • As a group, meeting with the Indian Government to show support for sustainable leather production and advocate for improvements to policy and regulation to support improvements in the industry.

Following the assessment of 40 tanneries, we undertook some bespoke work with a group of 10 tanneries to support them to improve. Interim results have already shown promising impacts in terms of the tanneries environmental performance:

  • 45% of tanneries had either achieved or had made substantial progress towards achievement of high priority actions (as opposed to 25% before intervention);
  • 53% had achieved or made progress on medium priority actions (as opposed to 35% at the start of the initiative);
  • In one of the tanneries there was a 20% improvement in energy efficiency and 35% improvement in water efficiency achieved through the handholding intervention. Similar results are expected in the other tanneries.
Leather drying in India © James Lovick/TinderflintLeather drying in India © James Lovick/Tinderflint 

When we started this project, our focus was on the Kanpur leather cluster. Now that we have developed our approach and been encouraged by its impact the Platform has set an ambition to scale up the work to cover other leather clusters in India. We’re really excited about the potential this has for supporting sustainable leather production nationally and protecting India’s precious freshwater environment and communities and businesses that rely on it.

No single business could have tackled this issue alone – it is simply too big a challenge and it requires a collective approach to implement solutions. We believe that by working together, we can make a real difference. Find out what some of the Platform members think in our new film, launching today:

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Platform, you can visit our website. We’d love to hear from businesses who are interested in joining us; you can get in touch with us by email

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