Italian fashion: stylish and sophisticated, but unfortunately may be linked to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. As cattle ranching is responsible for about 80 per cent of deforestation in Brazil, it is likely that Brazilian shoe leather comes from areas of cleared rainforest. So a team of Greenpeace activists have set up an alternative photoshoot today outside a major industry event in Italy to remind the world's shoe and leather companies that we can't walk all over the Amazon.
The catwalk and fashion shoot appeared at the Linea Pelle show in Bologna where attendees were greeted with the message "Salvati la pelle". In Italian, 'pelle' means life as well as leather, so it translates as either 'save your skin' or 'save your leather' – take your pick.
Top Italian models glided in front of images of pristine Amazon forests, which then flipped round to show the message "Salvati la pelle". The targets for this message are the companies producing leather, reminding them that manufacturers using leather in their products – shoes, handbags, jackets and so on – don't want deforestation sewn in as well.
As you might recall, there's already an agreement between Brazilian cattle companies to move away from deforestation. Two years ago it went like this: after a three year investigation we exposed the problem, you put pressure on the big name shoe brands, who in turn lent on their leather suppliers to sign up to the agreement. Within a few weeks, Brazil's largest companies dealing with meat and leather goods – JBS, Marfig and Minerva – were signed up.
And yet we’ve discovered at least one company is not fulfilling its commitments –JBS, Brazil's largest meat and leather producer. We have found more than a dozen of JBS's suppliers are not complying with the agreement. That means they have links to illegal deforestation, slavery and seizure of indigenous lands, we've released a new crime file documenting the findings.
Evidence shows that some animals supplied to JBS this year came from farms on land taken from the Xavantes who've lived there for generations. Because the cattle ranches and fodder fields have taken over their home, the rivers have run dry or become contaminated so catching fish is impossible. There are also numerous reports of conflict between farmers and the Xavantes.
In part, this non-compliance can be traced back to the proposed changes to Brazil's Forest Code, the law which protects the Amazon rainforest. If these changes go through (the Brazilian president is due to consider them in the coming weeks), then the area available for legal deforestation will increase enormously, as well as letting off anyone involved in previous instances of illegal deforestation scot-free. So the recent increased level of deforestation is most likely down to loggers anticipating this amnesty and getting a head start.
While the fashion industry doesn't necessarily have the ability to preserve Brazil's Forest Code, it uses a lot of Brazilian leather. So the delegates at the Bologna shoe fair have the power to make JBS and other companies to stick to the agreement they signed up to – doing so will remind everyone that the Amazon, and the Forest Code, are worth fighting for.
Read the report Broken Promises: How the cattle industry in Amazon is still connected to deforestation, slave labour and invasion of indigenous land.