South Africa's Exotic Leather Cluster gets final Approval

The Exotic Leather Cluster (ELC), a key initiative promoting sustainability and transparency of the industry in South Africa and beyond, has received the final seal of approval and funding, paving the way for the transformation of the exotic leather industry.

The exotic leather industry has the potential to become an important contributor towards economic and industrial development of South Africa but lack of industry benchmarking, development of best practice charters, and poor traceability of products still block the desired positive impacts the industry could have on the environment and local communities.

ELC is a not for profit association composed of industry members which are representative of the value chain and deals with crocodiles and ostrich trade. Seed funding is largely provided by the government, it works in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry and the University of Pretoria. Further funding will be raised from other sources. Its main objectives are to improve policy and its impact as well as ensure sustainability throughout the value chain.

ELC teamed up with RESP on various issues including traceability, a key factor towards achieving sustainability of the sector.

“We are thrilled that we have received the necessary funding to promote sustainable growth and increase the competitiveness of our industry,” said Stefan van As, the Chairman of ELC and CEO of Le Croc, a South African crocodile breeding farm and tannery.

“The collaboration with RESP will be critical in tackling some of the industry’s biggest challenges.” “RESP and ELC will work together on pilot projects to determine if it will be possible to determine the source of every crocodile skin used in finished leather products and that this is recorded and traced.”  

One of ELC’s priorities will be to establish a register holding all the information for the whole value chain and link that register to the domestic permitting system as well as records of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). 

According to van As, the inefficiency of current manual permitting procedures in South Africa is one of the main causes behind the long delays in the trade in crocodile skins and products and the poor traceability of crocodile leather skins.

“The process in applying and obtaining permits is so cumbersome and delays so frequent that many local producers sell skins in the domestic market without registering the trade,” van As said. “That’s how we end up with crocodile skins whose provenance is either unknown or bought from unregistered producers.” 

“A functioning traceability system could revolutonise the industry bringing positive environmental and social impacts. And keep the clients happy.”

One of RESP’s key objectives is the development of a global traceability knowledge system, which may become part of a legislation package within CITES and therefore influence the trade of reptile skins around the world.

Global demand for reptile skins and luxury leather goods continues to grow but poor compliance and regulations are seen as major factors depriving communities of the benefits of this trade and potentially threatening the survival of the species used for this industry.

The International Working Group on Reptile Skins of RESP, which is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, governments and organisations acting together to improve international value chains of reptile skins, has set a goal to develop a global traceability system by the end of 2016.

Such a system would complement existing CITES procedures and allow the fashion industry to demonstrate the legality and sustainability of its sourcing, a move which could also add significant value to well-sourced leather goods. 

Luxury goods consumers increased awareness of the environmental, social and economic and animal welfare impacts emanating from the use of natural resources putting positive pressure on global brands to improve information about the source and supply chains of their products.

“This partnership could transform the South Africa’s leather goods industry and elevate trade to the highest world standards,” said Eduardo Escobedo, Executive Director of RESP. 

“Through the piloting and establishment of the traceability knowledge system here, ELC will become an example for the rest of the world.”