H&M Group pauses Brazilian leather sourcing as forest fires continue

H&M Group owns eight brands - including the world's second-largest fashion retailer H&M. Image: Nissy-KITAQ 

According to Reuters, the suspension of purchasing by H&M Group will be in place “until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.”

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) states that there has been a total of 72,843 fires in Brazil this year and more than 1.5 football fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed per minute, per day – an increase of 80% compared to the same period the year prior.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro had stated that the fires were common practice in Amazonia during summer, with farmers clearing land during the off-season. However, given the scale of the fires this year, green campaigners, scientists and supply chain experts have instead claimed they are a sign that better deforestation practices are needed in the cattle, soy and palm oil industries.

“Due to the severe fires in the Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest, and the connections to cattle production, we have decided to place a temporary ban on leather from Brazil,” H&M Group’s statement reads.

The firm, which owns not only H&M but also the likes of &Other Stories, Cos and Monki, claims that most of its leather is sourced from Europe, with only a small proportion originating in South America. During the suspension of sourcing from Brazil, demand will be met with leather from key European suppliers.

Snowball effect or greenwashing?

H&M Group’s move comes shortly after VF Corp – the owner of fashion brands such as Vans, Timberland and The North Face – also paused its sourcing of Brazilian leather, over the same environmental concerns.

Since then, Timberland has committed to planting 50 million trees within the next five years – up from 10 million trees between 2013 and 2018.

While these moves from VF Corp and H&M Group alike have been praised for taking a swift and public stand against deforestation, many have begun questioning why large companies did not decrease their reliance on Brazilian leather when Bolsonaro first took up office.

Moreover, H&M was recently called up by the Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA) over marketing surrounding its “Conscious” collection – an edit of garments and accessories which purport to be “less polluting”. This move sparked fresh accusations of greenwashing.

The CA claimed that H&M was “misleading” consumers by not providing on-tag or in-store information regarding the sustainability credentials of its “Conscious” products. H&M, in response, said it would continue a dialogue with the body on “how to become even better at communicating the extensive work [it does].”

Sarah George

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