On Friday, H&M announced it would temporarily suspend Brazilian leather purchases after mounting concerns that cattle ranching was a leading factor causing deforestation in the Amazon. As the second largest retailer in the world, this makes H&M the largest company to stop business in Brazil due to the burning of the rainforest. Just last week, VF Corporation—an international company including major retailers such as Timberland, Vans, and The North Face—also announced they would stop buying leather in Brazil until suppliers could confirm leather production wasn’t contributed to the fires.
The fashion industry is one of the greatest polluters in the world, especially when it comes to fast-fashion retailers like H&M, which mass-produce inexpensive and often unsustainable clothing. But, increased pressures from environmentalists have urged many major fashion companies to rethink the way they produce clothing.[yop_poll id=”2″]
A spokesperson for H&M told Forbes in a statement that the ban would continue “until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.”
According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), over 80,000 fires have ravaged Brazil just this year—80% more than the number of fires the country experienced last year.
Over half of those fires are affecting the rainforest.
Roughly 60% of the Amazon is located in Brazil, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported being the world’s top exporter of beef. Brazil also acts as a leader in the soybean industry, where it earns more revenue from soybean exports than any other good. Although these industries may be generating a lot of revenue for the country, they’re also responsible for a significant amount of environmental damage. That’s because, for both beef and soybean production, fires must be set to make room for agricultural land.
In response to the fires blazing through the Amazon, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment tweeted the fires were caused by “dry weather, wind, and heat.” However, the science proves otherwise. Growing popularity in deforestation and slash-and-burn practices, methods used to clear space for agricultural land, are major reasons why the Amazon is up in flames.
“There is no doubt that this rise in fire activity is associated with a sharp rise in deforestation,” he said.
Action can’t stop here
So while this decision by H&M and V.C. Corp. certainly serves as a strong statement against the Brazilian government’s seeming inaction, a lot more must be done to put out all these flames. In 2017, less than 1% of clothing from H&M was made out of leather. As for VF Corp., the company said 5% of its leather purchases came from Brazil.
Ginger Cassady, the program director for the Rainforest Action Network, said more was still needed to be done.
“While this statement from H&M is a welcome and strong signal, we need to remain cautious in our optimism until this promise turns into practice—and until we see real impact on the ground where these supply chains originate,” she said.
Bolsonaro takes action under the heat
With rising pressure directed towards the Brazilian government, critics are eager to see how President Jair Bolsonaro will take on the heat. Bolsonaro, dubbed by opponents as “The Brazilian Donald Trump,” has been facing growing backlash for his environmental track record. During his presidency, Bolsonaro has rolled back several key environmental regulations and significantly cut back the budget for environmental protection agencies.
So far, to tackle this environmental crisis, Bolsonaro has sent the military to fight the fires. Brazilian forces are stationed to border areas most vulnerable to the fires, where they have been ordered to put out the flames. In a televised address, Bolsonaro described the Brazilian government as one with “zero tolerance for crime,” as he said it was their duty to protect the rainforest from environmental crimes. Recently, Bolsonaro also signed an executive order banning fires during the Amazon’s dry season. Still, fires are only continuing to rage through the forest.
In all, even though it may seem like H&M’s decision may just be a drop of water putting out an ever-growing fire, it’s certainly better than having a small contribution to a massive problem. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and is home to 400 to 500 indigenous tribes, and—according to the Wildlife Conservation Society—30,000+ species of plants, 2.5 million species of insects, 1,500+ species of birds, 550 reptiles, and 500 mammals.
The Amazon was once referred to as the “lungs of the Earth.” Now, the bulk of responsibility befalls upon corporations and governments to ensure the rainforest doesn’t suffocate.