A new investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Deforestation in the Driver’s Seat, reveals how leather seats used in many of the most iconic car brands are linked to illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Investigators analyzed cattle transport documents from the Amazon state of Rondônia and conducted interviews and field research to document how thousands of cattle from farms with illegal Amazon deforestation entered the supply chains of Brazil’s largest leather manufacturers, who supply the global automotive industry. EIA followed the movements of around 147,000 cattle from more than 700 illegal farms located inside the Jaci-Paraná protected area, where illegal invasions by cattle ranchers is driving widespread deforestation. In addition, cattle were tracked from farms where satellite imagery shows continued ranching on illegally deforested areas that had been designated as off limits by Brazilian law enforcement.
Cattle from these areas entered the supply chains of tanneries run by major Brazilian leather producers JBS, Vancouros and Viposa, who are among the largest suppliers of the world’s leading car seat maker, Lear corporation. Roughly one in five leather car seats globally are made by Lear using leather sourced from Brazil. Lear names car brands such as GM, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler as customers for its seats.
Despite industry claims to the contrary, leather is anything but a by-product of Brazil’s meat industry. The sale of hides is an important contributor to slaughterhouse profitability in an industry where margins can be narrow. More than 80% of the hides are exported, valued at $1.4 billion in 2021, with China, the EU and the U.S. the three largest destinations. The global automotive industry is one of the largest end users of hides from Brazil.
The report describes how complex supply chains and the abuse of transport permits facilitate the laundering of illegally raised cattle. The vast majority of the animals tracked out of the protected area in the analysis were transferred to one – and more often two – intermediaries before reaching a slaughterhouse. Current corporate monitoring systems focused only on farms that directly supply slaughterhouses are insufficient to keep deforestation out of supply chains in Brazil.
EIA’s Commodity Manager, Rick Jacobsen said: “International car brands using seats made with leather from Brazil risk being complicit in illegal deforestation in the Amazon unless they know where the cattle were raised. Full traceability of individual animals from birth to slaughter must be required by the Brazilian government and by consumer market regulators developing measures to remove deforestation from commodity supply chains.”
The report urges major importing countries to pass effective due diligence laws in order to keep goods associated with deforestation and forest crimes out of the international market. Specifically, it calls on the U.S. to pass the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act (H.R. 5508/S. 2950) and on the EU to implement its deforestation regulation.
Contact: Rick Jacobsen, Commodity Manager, EIA Forest Campaign, [email protected]
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