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April 29, 2000
US animal-lovers slam Indian leather exporters, squeeze business
Zakia Maryam in Calcutta
US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PeTA's recent efforts to ensure a blanket ban on India’s leather exports to USA have evoked sharp criticism from the country’s leather industry.
Only a week ago, PeTA activists announced in Calcutta that it had persuaded three major retailers -- Gap Inc, Old Navy and Banana Republic -- to stop importing Indian leather since "the animals faced brutal treatment in India".
Although none of these three leather retailers in the USA has taken a decision to shun Indian leather, exporters appear quite upset over the possible impact on the industry if such ban indeed becomes a reality.
PeTA members, however, say that Gap, the second largest retailer in the USA, has already decided to stop selling products that used leather from animals killed in India. This ban, they say, would be effective at all Gap stores worldwide.
Debasis Chakrabarti of People for Animals in Calcutta, a local support group for PeTA, says the ban seeks to end the rampant unethical treatment meted out to animals in India in the manufacture of leather products. He says the PeTA’s recent campaign in this regard is part of the global movement to protect animal rights.
There is a view that only India (and not Pakistan and Bangladesh where the killing of cows is far more prevalent) is being singled out for 'special treatment'? Chakrabarti feels China is a prime offender so far as the brutality on animals is concerned. Yet, American companies' ire is targeted only against India.
Chakrabarti says, "You see, India is the only country in the world which guarantees equal rights to animals to live peaceful life. So the cruelty by people engaged in leather business only violates Article 51 of the Indian Constitution. Pakistan, Bangladesh and even China do not have such laws framed in their constitution.”
This theory, according to many leather exporters, only smacks of duplicity on the part of animal rights activists. Mohammad Shafi, a leather retailer, says, “This is America’s ingenious move to curtail the growing leather industry of India. If the violation is only what appears to have irked these animal-lovers, then they should rather call themselves the saviours of the Indian Constitution and not animal rights activists.”
Indian leather exporters’ main worry is not the Gap’s decision not to buy leather products from India but the damaging effect this can have on the country’s export markets elsewhere.
According to some statistics, India’s export share in the global market has been on the rise, especially in the USA, the UK and Germany, in the recent past. Its share in the USA’s total leather import has increased from 1.37 per cent in 1995 to close to ten per cent in 1999.
Of the total Indian leather exports, which stand around $1.7 billion a year, the USA alone imports leather goods worth over $100 million from India.
Arnab Kumar Jha, vice-president of the Indian Leather Technologists' Association, too feels the ban imposed by the Gap is the West’s ploy to weaken the flourishing leather industry in India.
“The general economic recession in South Asia notwithstanding, there has been a noticeable boom of sorts in the Indian leather industry, which apparently hasn’t gone down well with the USA. Hence a move to ban Indian leather,” says Jha.
Brushing aside the charges of cruelty against animals, Jha says that it was practically impossible to slaughter an animal without the approval of the veterinary doctors appointed by the ministry of animal husbandry. In response to the allegations that leather exporters killed animals indiscriminately to meet their trade demands, Jha says, “These charges are baseless and hold no water. For example, a healthy cow usually costs around 6-8 thousand rupees, whereas its hide is sold at a meagre price of Rs 300. So do you think a sensible person would ever kill his cow worth thousands of rupees merely to obtain her hide, which will fetch him a paltry sum of Rs 300?”
The US Consul General in Indian, Christopher Sandrolini, who was in Calcutta recently, said that the manufacturers of leather goods in India need not get alarmed over what Gap has done.
“Although animal activists in the USA have had a successful campaign back home, one has to draw a distinction between the action taken by the private companies and the government stand. Please do not mistake it as a part of non-tariff barrier. I wouldn’t presume to advice the people in India whether Gap is right in imposing a ban on Indian leather. However, even these companies know that sometimes the best way is to avoid confrontation and adapt themselves. This will only help them prosper further as I can’t see a global leather market without India’s participation.”
Sandrolini’s statements have indeed come as a breather for the harried exporters in India. However, in the wake of the successful campaign by animal rights activists worldwide, the trouble appears far from over for the leather exporters in India.
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