COTANCE Leather authenticity

Gustavo Quijano

Gustavo Quijano – Secretary General of COTANCE

The Council of COTANCE requests the European Commission to use its power of legislative initiative for regulating leather authenticity labelling in the EU market

The representatives of the Italian, Spanish, French, British, German, Portuguese, Austrian and Swedish tanners met on 6 October 2017 in Milan for their Autumn Council of COTANCE with the topics of “Leather authenticity” on their agenda.

At the beginning of the year COTANCE submitted a Paper to the European Commission requesting regulatory action for uniform leather authenticity rules in the EU, one of the largest global consumer markets for leather products. The leather industry has consistently requested EU to redress the market failures that the current legal fragmentation provokes for the last decade. The phenomenon of false and misleading product descriptions with regard to leather has grown exponentially reaching intolerable levels. The damage this causes to the leather industry and its value chains cannot be ignored, nor is it acceptable that consumers are systematically confused or deceived with descriptions that hide the true nature of the material that is purchased. Both sides have a legitimate right of protection; protection against the misuse of the term “leather” and protection against deceptive commercial practices that avoid disclosing the true composition of the products bought.

While in a different sector and regulatory environment, the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed in its ruling of 14 June 2017 that purely plant-based products such as tofu or soya cannot, in principle, be marketed with descriptions such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’ and that these terms are reserved for animal products under EU law, it clearly sets a precedent for the principle of transparency and authenticity in the EU legal order. This cannot be limited only to Milk and Dairy. Also the leather sector pretends such legal protection and that misleading qualifying terms indicating the plant or else origin of the product concerned and/or that it does not contain animal products, are also prohibited.

The Global Leather Coordination Committee (GLCC), gathering the three international Leather organisations meeting earlier in Shanghai at the end of August equally condemns the current market dysfunctions and has specifically called on EU authorities to respond to the collective will expressed by the international leather community to bring about a solution to this illegitimate phenomenon.

Europe’s tanners express concern for developments in all their market segments from footwear to automotive, affecting equally Garments, Bags and pocket goods, and furniture. Through COTANCE they condemn in particular the practice to promote alternative materials by denigrating leather and soiling its environmental credentials. Fake news attributing the tanning industry responsibilities for the slaughter of animals or for polluting the environment adds insult to injury.

The leather industry has been forced to devote increasing resources to the defence of leather authenticity for fighting back the use of fallacious terms affecting leather in commercial communications and in the media in the absence of a clear regulatory environment. This constitutes a significant waste of resources that could be saved in this legitimate industry and value chain with appropriate authenticity and transparency rules.

Furthermore, COTANCE calls on the European Commission to take appropriate action in the case of Nike’s “Flyleather” campaign where the EU legal order disposes of rules for ensuring correct footwear labelling and impede unfair commercial practices. The “Flyleather” Campaign constitutes a challenge not only to EU labelling and fair trading rules, but also to the EU Environmental Footprinting initiative whose methodology has been ignored rendering futile the 3-year pilot phase for product category rules in the leather and footwear sectors.

The term “FlyLeather”, with which Nike promotes the product, is moreover illegal in several important EU member States’ consumer markets where legislation or standards prevent consumers from deceptive commercial practices and the leather industry from free riding its heritage.

COTANCE, in full alignment to ICT, reminds that in the European terminology standard EN 15987 one can read under 4.4.1 “leather fibre board, bonded leather fibre, recycled leather fibre and similar terms:

material where tanned hides or skins are disintegrated mechanically and/or chemically into fibrous particles, small pieces or powders and then, with or without the combination of chemical binding agent, are made into sheets

Note 1 to entry: If there is any other component apart from leather fibre, binding material and leather auxiliaries, then this should be declared as part of the description.

Note 2 to entry: The minimum amount of 50 % in weight of dry leather is needed to use the term leather fibre board.

Note 3 to entry: The term “leather” is only to be used for material with the original fibrous structure intact as defined under 4.1.1. Where the material has been disintegrated and reformed in some way, the appropriate generic term is “…X leather fibre”- for example,“ bonded leather fibre,” or “recycled leather fibre.” On this basis, the terms “recycled leather” or “recycling leather” are used incorrectly.”

For all these reasons the Council of COTANCE again requests the European Commission to respond to the leather industry call to use its power of legislative initiative for regulating leather authenticity labelling in the EU market

Case C-422/16: Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb vs. TofuTown

International Council of Tanners – ICT, International Council of Hides, Skins and Leather Traders Associations – ICHSLTA, International Union of Leather Chemists and Technologists Societies – IULTCS

In the EU, the Footwear Labelling Directive sets since 1994 the disclosure rules that govern the marketing of shoes in the internal market. Nike’s new line does not qualify for being labelled as leather or as coated leather, but as synthetic. Moreover the European Commission’s Guidance on Unfair Commercial Practices bans notably terms such as ecoleather or textile-leather as deceptive. “Flyleather” falls into this category.