The supply chain behind leather goods can be complex and diversified, and being aware of its stages and key phases is essential to implement traceability.
From the slaughterhouse to retail, leather undergoes a range of treatments in order to become the workable material that makes the final product possible.
Curing is the first stage of leather manufacturing. During this phase the hides are treated with salt in order to prevent bacterial growth and removing water. Then, the hides are soaked in water to remove the salt and increase the moisture.
Curing, soaking and other preliminary operations lead to tanning. At this stage, the hides are processed in order to alter their protein structure and obtain a durable material. The process can be carried on using chrome, natural tannins or alternative chemicals such as alum, zirconium, titanium, iron salts, or a combination thereof.
The choice of some chemicals instead of others can have a strong influence on the sustainability of the manufacturing, minimizing its environmental impact, and keeping track of all the used chemicals could also come in handy when it comes to promoting virtuous products.
As far as social responsibility is concerned, traceability plays a key role in assessing the sustainability of the whole leather chain and spreading good practices such as the ones related to raw material issues (eg. animal welfare).
Despite traceability meets both commercial requests and the ethical concerns of consumers, implementing it is not an easy issue to deal with. The lack of compulsory certifications along the chain, the number of involved operators and the variability in tools (eg. tags, marks, paper or electronic documents) make the whole chain fragmented and hard to keep track of.
CITES products, which are covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Washington Convention), are an example of the degree of transparency that can be achieved by implementing accurate traceability protocols.
Getting to know where the animals come from, how they were bred, and how they were taken care of would improve animal welfare and reassure concerned consumers, while keeping track of all the substances involved in the manufacturing would encourage the use of sustainable chemicals instead of polluting ones.