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To make leather from the skin of an animal, some very toxic chemicals are used, which transform the natural product into a material which must be treated as special waste after use! The global leather industry slaughters over one billion animals annually and processes their skins into clothing, fashion articles, furniture, interior and accessories..1 The greater the demand for leather, the greater the profit of the butcher when selling the animal skin. This makes animal factories financially more attractive.

How natural is leather?

Only about one-third of a slaughtered livestock land on the Swiss plates. The remaining two-thirds - skin, bones, fat and intestines such as the liver, spleen, heart and lungs - are regarded as by-products and are disposed of or processed further. The most important by-product of the meat industry is the skin of the animals.2

Also the hides of cows from the dairy industry are processed to leather as soon as the productivity of the animals decreases. The skins of their children bred for the production of veal are processed into expensive calf leather.

Where does leather come from?

The majority of the leather products sold come from cow and veal hides. However, leather is also produced from the hides of horses, sheep, lambs, goats and pigs, which are killed for their meat. Other animal species are hunted and slaughtered on their hides. So zebras, bisons, water buffaloes, wild boars, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, turtles, crocodiles, lizards and snakes are falling victim to this cruel business.

Kangaroos are slaughtered annually millionfold, since their skin is considered a first-class material for football boots.3 And although the Australian government requires hunters to shoot the animals, orphans, young and injured animals are beheaded, according to the government to "destroy the brain". After football star David Beckham learned about these cruel methods, he turned to shoes made of synthetic materials in 2006.4

Animal welfare

Most leather goods are made from the skin of cattle (mostly calves). These are up to 80% of "dairy cows" .5 According to this, leather products are considered to have been kept in accordance with foreign animal welfare requirements. Too little space, too little light, antibiotics, castration and removal of the horns without anesthesia, etc. In addition, transport to slaughterhouse and slaughter. Desired is particularly soft leather, which comes from young calves. The younger the better: sometimes the leather comes from calves that are only an hour old, or from slaughtered pregnant mothers.

Helath risk leather

When the animals have been slaughtered, their skins are tanned. 90% of this is done with chromium, as a result of which chromate enters the wastewater. Chromate contains chromium VI compounds, which can lead to various poisoning (0.5g to 1g are lethal), as well as to inheritance defects. 6 There are further processing processes in which, e.g. Aluminum, iron, zirconium, phenol, cresol, naphthalene and oils and coatings. This has not "only" effects on the environment but also on humans: higher leukemia susceptibility near tanneries. Tanner workers account for more than half of those diagnosed with testicular cancer.7

It is true that all eco- or certification seals stipulate that chromium (VI) can not be found in leather at all, but this requirement can not be enforced in practice.

Today there are only eight tanneries in Switzerland. Of this, three are industrially produced with about 20 employees, and five are more artisan with one to two employees.8 The majority of the leather sold in Switzerland comes from abroad. Especially due to strict environmental protection requirements in Switzerland and Germany, the tannery has moved to low wage and development lenghts.

The risks of the leather industry nowadays are beared by  the workers in developing countries like India, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh or Brazil. Owing to a lack of danger warnings against carcinogenic chromium (IV) compounds, which also cause painful allergies, the people in tanneries in these countries wade through chromium and wastewater and draw their drinking water partly from contaminated rivers and groundwater sources.

en. Eine Untersuchung des Bundesamtes für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (BVL) testete die Einhaltung des Chrom(VI)-Grenzwertes an fast 600 verschiedenen Produkten – knapp die Hälfte war Chrom(VI) belastet Die höchsten Überschreitungen des Grenzwertes wurden bei Lederschuhen gemessen, wo der krebserregende Stoff in jedem dritten Schuh gefunden wurde. Ähnlich problematische Chrom-Verbindungen konnten von der Stiftung Warentest in Babyschuhen und Arbeitshandschuhen nachgewiesen werden.10 Auch die Zeitschrift „Ökotest“ wertet seit Jahren regelmässig Lederprodukte aufgrund ihrer schädlichen Chromverbindungen ab. Die TV-Reportage „Giftige Schuhe“ des NDR-Magazins 45 Min vom 14.05.2012 findet überall  in indischen Gerbereien giftige Chromsalze, die Flüsse und Umwelt verpesten, während die Bevölkerung an lebenslangen Chromallergien leidet.


An investigation by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) tested compliance with the chromium-(VI) limit value of almost 600 different products - almost half of which was contaminated with chromium (VI)!9 The highest exceedances of the limit value were measured in leather heels Carcinogenic substance was found in every third shoe. Similar problems of chromium compounds could be detected by the Stiftung Warentest in baby shoes and work gloves.10 The magazine "Ökotest" has also regularly evaluated leather products due to their harmful chromium compounds.11 The TV report "Toxic Shoes" by the NDR magazine 45 min From May 14, 2012, toxic chromium salts are found throughout Indian tanneries that pollute rivers and the environment, while the population suffers from life-long chromatic allergies.12


In addition to the health hazards of all people involved in production, leather tanning with Azo dyestuffs, chromium salts and pentachlorphenols (PCP) also has a negative impact on the environment. In addition to toxic substances, tannic effluents also contain enormous amounts of other pollutants such as proteins, hair, salts, lime sludge, sulphides and acids. A chrome tanning machine consumes over 55,000 liters of water and produces up to 1,000 kilograms of solid waste (eg hair, meat and edge waste) per processed tonne of animal skin as well as large amounts of poisonous smears.13

Vegetable tanning?

Die Gerbung der Tierhäute mit Pflanzen nimmt wesentlich mehr Zeit, und somit mehr Energie und Wasser, in Anspruch, was sich negativ auf die gesamte Umweltbilanz niederschlägt. Zudem ist pflanzlich gegerbtes Leder meist deutlich fester und eignet sich somit nicht für jeden Lederartikel. Handschuhe sollen beispielsweise fein und griffig sein. Das schafft selbst pflanzengegerbtes Leder nur mit chemischen Zusatzstoffen. Obwohl diese Stoffe auf dem Etikett nicht angegeben werden müssen, erhalten solche Lederartikel ein sogenanntes „Öko-Label“.

The tanning of the animal skins with plants takes much more time, and thus more energy and water, which negatively impacts the entire environmental balance. In addition, vegetal tanned leather is usually much stronger and is therefore not suitable for every leather article. Gloves should be, for example, fine and handy. This creates even plant-tanned leather only with chemical additives. Although these substances do not have to be indicated on the label, such leather articles are given a so-called "eco-label".

How can I distinguish leather from artificial leather?

Nowadays alternatives made of artificial leather are already deceptively genuine and it is not always easy to distinguish leather from artificial leather. The following tips help you decide:

In addition, leather has a very own smell, which does not occur with artificial leather.

What can you do?

  • Animal-friendly alternatives include, for example, cotton, linen, rubber, quagar, canvas and synthetic fabrics. Chlorenol (at Avia "Hydrolite", at Nike "Durabuck") is an interesting new material which is characterized by its breathing activity and is used for the production of sports and hiking boots. It settles with the same elasticity as leather around the foot, gives good hold and can be washed in the machine. Alternative materials are usually cheaper and do not contribute to mass slaughtering for meat production or wild hunting for animals with wonderful skin. Ask for leather-free articles in the trade, and ask designers and manufacturers to produce footwear from alternative materials.

  • Visually similar leathereralatives are, among others,  cork, pinapple leather or generally fruit leather.
  • If you are buying a vehicle inform yourself in advance about car brands that offer leather-free models.
  • Lederalternatives can be found almost everywhere where you shop. Various labels (eg Mango, Esprit, S.Oliver, Nike and more.) Distribute leather-free handbags, purse and shoes.
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