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Chairman Zeitz of Puma


Chairman of Europe’s second largest sporting goods maker and popular brand in the US, Puma, sees and end to using leather in it’s shoes. “I think eventually we’ll have to look at alternative materials, there’s no question about it,” chairman Jochen Zeitz said in an interview to a London-based newspaper. “It may sound crazy, but maybe there’s an economic way of producing a leather-like product in the laboratory,” he said. “We have to find alternative ways of producing our raw materials without asking nature to do it for us.”

We should eat less meat, all of us, and we should use less leather, I mean that’s reality.

Zeitz has cut his meat consumption by 80% and has introduced “meat-free Mondays” at the Puma corporate offices. In the business world, he is known as a pioneer of environmentally conscious business practices.

It’s true that the world is in trouble environmentally and we need to stop using animals, but I think we need to look at the ethical choices we make when we decide to use leather or other animal products too.

So, Where does leather come from?

Surprising enough, most leather comes from a country where cows are considered sacred, India. The slaughter of cows is illegal in India, with the exception of two states. The cows are brutally transported out of India or local officials are bribed to keep quiet.

“There is a huge amount of trafficking of cattle to both West Bengal and Kerala,” said Mrs Gandhi, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment in the present government and a veteran campaigner against animal abuse of all sorts. “The ones going to West Bengal go by truck and train and they go by the millions. The law says you cannot transport more than 4 per truck but they are putting in up to 70. When they go by train, each wagon is supposed to hold 80 to 100, but they cram in up to 900. I’ve seen 900 cows coming out of the wagon of a train, and 400 to 500 of them came out dead.”

The trade exists because of gross corruption, Mrs Gandhi says. “An illegal organisation called the Howrah Cattle Association fakes permits saying the cattle are meant for agricultural purposes, for ploughing fields or for milk. The stationmaster at the point of embarkation gets 8,000 rupees per train-load for certifying that the cows are healthy and are going for milk.

“The government vets get X amount for certifying them as healthy. The cattle are unloaded just before Calcutta, at Howrah, then beaten and taken across to Bangladesh by road. Bangladesh, which has no cows of its own, is the biggest beef exporter in the region. Between 10,000 and 15,000 cows go across that border every day. You can make out the route taken by the trucks by the trail of blood they leave behind.”

Even more horrifying is the transport of cows to the abattoirs on the border of Kerala in the extreme south of the peninsula. Mrs Gandhi says, “On the route to Kerala they don’t bother with trucks or trains: they tie them and beat them and take them on foot, 20,000 to 30,000 per day.” All Kerala’s slaughter houses are on the border. “Because they have walked and walked and walked the cattle have lost a lot of weight, so to increase the weight and the amount of money they will receive, the traffickers make them drink water laced with copper sulphate, which destroys their kidneys and makes it impossible for them to pass the water – so when they are weighed they have 15kg of water inside them and are in extreme agony.”

When they finally make it to the slaughterhouses that stand on the Kerala border, the end they confront is unspeakable, Mrs Gandhi says. “In Kerala they also have a unique way of killing them – they beat their heads to a pulp with a dozen hammer blows. A well-intentioned visitor from the West, trying to improve slaughterhouse practice in Kerala, exhorted them to use stun guns, saying that the meat of an animal killed in this fashion (rather than having its throat slit) tasted sweeter. The stun guns that she left behind quickly broke and fell into disuse, but the belief that the meat was sweeter took hold – which explains this horrible method of slaughtering.”

Cow heads outside the slaughter house in New Delhi, India.
-Cow heads outside the slaughter house in New Delhi, India.


Environmental or Ethical?

I think it’s great that businesses are taking steps to avoid using animals, but should also consider the ethical issues involved with using animal products as well. I don’t think most people would think the use of leather would be worth it if they knew the barbaric methods used to produce it. Using another living being’s skin for pleasure is just gross.

What’s your take? Let me know in the comments!

Sources: Financial Times, Businessweek, The Independent, Flickr