H&M Group becomes latest retailer to ban Brazilian leather

H&M wants to be "absolutely certain" that its leather isn't linked to fires.

London -- Sweden's H&M Group has become the latest retailer to ban leather from Brazil over environmental concerns in the Amazon rainforest.

The H&M Group is the second biggest retailer in the world, according to Reuters, with stores in 72 countries.

“Due to the severe fires in the Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest, and the connections to cattle production, we have decided to place a temporary ban on leather from Brazil,” a press officer for the H&M Group told ABC News by email. “The ban will be active until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.”

Brazil exported $1.4 billion in leather products in 2018, with most of it going to the United States, China and Italy, according to the Center for the Brazilian Tanning Industry.

Fires have raged in the Amazon all summer. The scale of the fires has drawn concern and condemnation both nationally and internationally.

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon from Jan. 1 of this year to Aug. 20 increased by 84% compared to the same period in 2018, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which used satellites to collect its research.

Deforestation, which experts say lies at the root of the forest fires, is increasing in Brazil. Many have blamed Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro. He was elected this year on a staunchly pro-business platform and has weakened environmental protection for the Amazon, supporting farmers who would like to use the land for agriculture, according to a Reuters investigation. Cattle ranching is the No. 1 cause of deforestation in the Amazon, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Late last year, Bolsonaro pushed for Brazil to withdraw its offer to host the United Nations' climate conference and he has also emphatically refused offers of aid from other countries to help fight the blazes. He said international interference is a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty and a shadow of colonialism, telling European leaders that they should concern themselves with re-foresting Europe.

H&M Group is the second company to introduce a temporary ban on leather from Brazil. Last week, the VF Corporation, which owns brands such as Timberland, The North Face, Vans and JanSport, announced it will no longer source leather from Brazil due to environmental concerns.

The VF Corporation told ABC News it can no longer be sure that leather producers in Brazil are complying with the company's responsible sourcing requirements.

The H&M Group’s decision is not likely to have a large impact on its business or suppliers. The company told ABC News that “the vast majority of our leather originates from Europe and only a very small part from Brazil.”

And the company had already banned leather from the Amazon biome. In its Global Sustainability Report dated December 2018, the company said it "does not want to contribute to deforestation of the Amazon rain forest. Therefore, we do not allow leather from cattle raised in the Amazon Biome.”

Until this week, H&M Group sourced leather from Brazilian cattle raised outside of the Amazon. Now, according to a company spokesperson, the company has decided to completely avoid Brazilian leather in order to be “absolutely certain that our leather is not part of what is now happening in the Brazilian part of the Amazon.”

President Bolsonaro, for his part, has said he is not concerned by the bans. He told Brazilian newspaper O Globo on Sunday that the boycott of Brazilian products was “part of the game.”

"This is normal worldwide," he said.

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