On November 16, 2017 we had a pleasure to take part in a meeting about global social and environmental challenges in footwear and leather industry. It was held by the Kupuj Odpowiedzialnie (Buy Responsibly) Foundation, who has been dealing with this topic for two years as a part of the "Buy Shoes Responsibly" project.
We were very happy to receive the invitation to the event because this topic is very important to us. Social and environmental challenges related to the global footwear and leather industry, discussed in the meeting, included the ways of sourcing raw materials, the conditions of leather production and their impact on the natural environment as well as employees' and consumers' health, the companies' obligation to provide information in this respect (in particular about eliminating hazardous substances from the footwear production process) and monitoring of supply chains and their transparency.
The meeting proved that, contrary to appearances, the real changes are on the way and this is happening mainly thanks to the dialogue. There are people who actively and effectively work to improve the current situation. Among the participants of the meeting were representatives of the leading Polish clothing and footwear companies, which produce in so-called “Global South” and distribute all over Europe, experts on: the leather industry and its environmental impact, CSR, responsible production and consumption, labor rights and relations with companies in India, as well as representatives of Polish Ministry of Development and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fairma contributed to the discussion by presenting current alternatives to leather, which is still a leading material used in the footwear industry.
Five major problems related to the global supply chain of the footwear and leather industry were discussed:
1. very low wages of workers in the Global South countries
2. hazardous working conditions and negative impact of chemicals used in production on the environment
3. workers' limited rights to form trade unions
4. lack of supply chain transparency
5. lack of a dialogue between producers and non-governmental organizations campaigning for the rights of workers in the Global South.
Together with experts and brands' representatives, we discussed possible effective ways to solve these problems. It is going to be a complex and long-lasting process based, among others, on building long-term lasting business relationships between brands, producers and suppliers.
It turns out that together we can do a lot to improve the situation. Large Polish brands have already taken steps towards changes, which creates positive patterns for others. The work can be done on many levels. As consumers, we can make a difference by clearly stating our expectations towards brands and educating ourselves and others. To learn more we strongly recommend you to read a report "Look at feet", which summarizes two years' work on the "Buy shoes responsibly" project.
Stay informed and buy responsibly! Remember that your personal choices can make a better world for all of us!