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June 12, 2000


The Rediff Business Special/Neena Haridas

Maran to the rescue of leather traders

Murasoli Maran, India's commerce ministerIn an attempt to stop the leather industry from being 'punished' by global retail industry for 'cruelty to animals', Union Commerce and Industry Minister Murasoli Maran has promised animal rights activists in India and abroad that 'necessary steps would be taken to put a stop to the barbaric treatment to animals in this trade'.

send this business special feature to a friend The minister's reaction follows the high-pitched campaign by the US-based People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which said last month that it had persuaded five big global retailers to stop using leather from India.

The commerce and industry ministry has urged the state governments to set committees in this regard and to ensure that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, legislated in 1960 is enforced.

The minister said that the committees will have representatives of the leather and meat industries and non-government organisations, or NGOs. "There would be surprise inspections of places where cattle are sold and loaded into trucks," the minister said.

PETA, which estimates that around 13 million cows are slaughtered in India every year for beef and hide, said that the animals faced cruel treatment in the country despite their sacred status in Hinduism.

Pamela Anderson Lee, Baywatch beautyPETA enrolled celebrity campaigners such as ex-Beatles star Paul McCartney and Baywatch girl Pamela Anderson Lee to put pressure on the Indian government and the Indian leather industry to stop the cruelty. In fact, many of its campaigners managed to convince retail outlets in the US and the UK to ban Indian leather till the time global norms against cruelty are adhered to.

McCartney joined the PETA campaign by writing to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of whose cabinet members, Maneka Gandhi, is an aggressive animal rights campaigner.

The minister's plea to the state governments has come in the wake of a fresh threat by PETA to launch a strike (it had held strikes and campaigns in various parts of the country early last month) once again.

India exports leather worth over $ 1.75 billion every year. However, due to the campaign the industry has come in for flak from global retail chains such as Gap, Banana Republic and Navy.

M Mohamed Hashim, chairman, Council for Leather Exports, said that hardly 10 per cent of leather derived from cows is used by the industry and of that 6 per cent is procured from fallen animals and 90 per cent is taken from buffaloes and goats.

"But we have asked the state government to take action if the said cruelty is taking place anywhere in the world. We are chalking out a detailed plan of action with appropriate government and non-governmental agencies, including animal welfare boards and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or SPCA, to educate traders and dealers in hides and skins on proper methods of transport and slaughter of animals. I do not agree with PETA's claim that the value of hide derived from such live animals taken for slaughter was more than 55 per cent of its total value. The value of hide never exceeds 10 per cent of the total value of the animal. It is, therefore, not a fact that slaughter of cows takes place at the instance of the leather industry," says Hashim.

Jason Baker, co-ordinator, PETA IndiaJason Baker, coordinator, PETA India, says, "We will continue our campaign if proper measures are not taken. We want to end the rampant unethical treatment meted out to animals in India in the manufacture of leather products. Our campaign in this regard is part of the global movement to protect animal rights. Demand for cheap leather in the West has spawned a grotesquely cruel underground industry in India. Because it is illegal to slaughter cows and young cattle in most Indian states, corrupt skin-dealers use bribes to smuggle the animals at night across borders. The cows and calves are marched for days and crammed into lorries. Those who collapse have chilli peppers and tobacco rubbed into their eyes and their tails broken in an effort to keep them moving."

Though the Commerce Ministry and the Council for Leather Exports have agreed to look into the matter and make the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act stringent, the Indian industry feels that the United States leather lobby is making a deliberate attempt to malign the Indian industry because of the latter's growing popularity.

India's export share in the global market has been on the rise, especially in the US, the UK and Germany, in the recent past. Its share in the US's total leather import has increased from 1.37 per cent in 1995 to close to 10 per cent in 1999. Of the total Indian leather exports, which stand around $ 1.7 billion a year, the US alone imports leather goods worth over $ 100 million from India.

Arnab Kumar Jha, vice-president of the Indian Leather Technologists' Association, or ILTA, too feels that the ongoing campaign 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 US. Hence a move to ban Indian leather," says Jha.

Moti Lal Sethi, president Indian Leather Garments Association, says, "If the campaign by PETA continues, the leather garments exports would be imperiled and it would also jeopardise the industry at home and will lead to unemployment of about 1.7 million people. The turnover of the leather industry in India is about $ 2.5 billion annually including export sales of $ 1.7 billion. India's market share in the $ 65-billion world trade in leather is about 2.5 per cent. The government will stand to lose a lot in terms of foreign exchange if things are not straightened out."

PETA promises to be on the aggressive. According to Baker, the association will persuade Hush Puppies, Florshiem and other shoe retail chains to ban Indian leather.

Paul McCartney, ex-Beatles superstarHow is PETA going about convincing these retail chains against Indian leather? Says Baker, "We have video tapes which shows the brutality with which cows are treated in India. We have succeeded in showing these to people who come to shop at these retail outlets. Then we have also got support from celebrities such as Paul MacCartney, Pamela Anderson Lee, Kula Shaker, etc. They believe in the cause and are able to influence their peer and the consumer about the brutality."

"Interestingly, India is the only country which has a law on ethical treatment of animals. India guarantees equal rights to animals to live peaceful life. So if the people engaged in leather business are cruel towards animals, they can be punished under Article 51 of the Indian Constitution. Pakistan, Bangladesh and even China do not have such laws framed in their constitution. Hence, it is not entirely right for the activists to claim that Indian is immune to the issue," says Hashim.

Atul Aggarwal, a leading Delhi-based leather retailer says, "This kind of blanket ban will have long term implications on our image in the foreign markets, not just the US, in the European markets as well. I don't think it is possible for people to just go and kill animals for their hide -- the mere economics does not work. For instance, first the person requires a government veterinary doctor's permission to slaughter the animal. Anybody cannot go and just kill an animal and make money out of it."

Explains ILTA's Jha, "A healthy cow usually costs around Rs 6000 -8000, whereas its hide costs just Rs 300-400. Why would anyone kill his cow worth thousands of rupees merely to obtain her hide, which will fetch him a paltry sum of Rs 300?"

Though the cattle population in India is currently estimated at about 205 million, the annual production of cattle hides is only 21.72 million, representing 10.60 per cent offtake rate compared with the offtake rate in the US of 38.80 per cent, Australia of 35.50 per cent and Russia of 34.90 per cent.

In all these countries, a cattle is reared for its meat whereas in India, it is primarily for milk. According to a survey conducted recently, more than 60 per cent of the cattle hides coming to the market in India are from dead cattle.

Meanwhile, the leather and leather exports industry expressed disappointment over the Union Finance Ministry announcing no enhancement in the duty drawback rates for leather and leather products.

Assistant director of the Council for Leather Exports, or CLE, K Abdul Sattar Khan, said maintaining a status quo would not compensate the actual duty suffered on various inputs. The enhancement of ceiling by Rs 2 on leather shoes was 'marginal and inadequate,' he said.

He said this would adversely affect the exporters' in the 'price-sensitive' international markets, especially in the case of novelty and high value-added products.

He said the inclusion of travel bags, rucksacks and brief bags in the category of bags, wallets and purses was appropriate. But the introduction of a cap of 60 per piece on these goods was totally inadequate.

He said the ceiling on all leather goods had been enhanced to Rs 48 from Rs 7 per piece. But this would not compensate adequately the duty incidence suffered on high value products falling under this category.

He said the CLE's suggestion to fix separate drawback rates for products like leather woven mesh, golf gloves and articles of leather made in combination with synthetic and non-synthetic materials has not been considered.

The suggestion to fix a separate rate for products made of duty free imported finished leather has also not been considered, he said.

Additional inputs: UNI


PM tells states to prevent cruel practices in leather trade

Another victory for animal rights group against Indian leather trade

British shoe firm Clark's may stop buying Indian leather

Leather industry sees 'calculated move' to harm India's growing clout in world market

Leather exporters assure PETA of action plan to stop cruelty to animals

US animal-lovers slam Indian leather exporters, squeeze business

Animal rights group forces US retailers to stop using Indian leather



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