India has been in the news often over the past few months, and much of the news has been good. An innovative entrepreneur in the capital region of Delhi invented an affordable, 100 percent biodegradable “plastic” bag to reduce the nation’s pollution. A coal-burning plant in Tamil Nadu has discovered a way turn the  carbon dioxide it produces into baking soda, and they announced that it recorded zero emissions for the year – pretty cool right?

Animal rights activists also received good news from the sub-continent when the Directorate General of Foreign Trade announced a national ban on the importation of mink, fox, and chinchilla fur/leather as well as reptile skins. According to Humane Society of the United States’ CEO, Wayne Pacelle, India’s appetite for exotic furs and reptile skins has been increasing steadily as the country’s wealth increases. The market for reptile skin increased 1800 percent from 2014-2016 and the demand for exotic furs rose 700 percent during that time.  The Humane Society International/India, who lobbied the government for this ban, states that the new policy will save the lives of tens of thousands of animals every year. So the recent import ban marks a significant shift in policy for the nation . . . at least superficially.

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While the nation is no longer importing “exotic” leather and furs, the country’s internal leather industry is consistently in the top eight largest national industries every year. For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, India’s leather exports totaled 5.92 billion dollars while domestic leather sales accounted for another 6 billion dollars in sales. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, “The Indian leather industry accounts for around 12.9 percent of the world’s leather production of hides/skins. The country ranks second in terms of footwear and leather garments production in the world.” Despite these massive numbers, Inda’s leather industry shrunk by 10 percent in the past year – some attribute this decline to the fact that India’s leather industry has lost its edge.  The industry has recorded a consistently shrinking market share over the past few years, but there is no arguing the size and influence of their annual leather exports.

Now a cynic might say that India’s ban on exotic leather and reptile skins was not a move towards a more empathetic form of capitalism and conservation, but rather, was an attempt to protect its national leather markets. But we like to look at the glass half full, banning imports is one positive step toward tackling the harmful industry. However, India still has a long way to go before it weans itself away from the cruel leather industry.

One of the best ways that we can help pressure the Indian leather industry, and the global leather industry, to end its horrific practices is refusing to buy products that contain leather. There are a myriad of sustainable, cruelty-free options on the market today that can replace leather. So many in fact, that it is completely irresponsible and (dare we say) intentionally cruel to support an industry that slaughters animals to make clothing and supports the animal agriculture industry. So help the fashion industry join the 21st-century by boycotting leather products – and remember that even though a black leather jacket looks cool – it’s not cool to be cruel.

Image source: Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock

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