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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Peta 'skins' India's leather workers
Leather goods factory
India's leather workers will suffer because of the boycott
By BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava in Bombay

Indian leather exporters have suffered a major setback after four big US retail chains decided not to buy its goods in protest against the ill-treatment of animals.

The boycott by Casual Corner, LL Bean, Timberland and Eddie Bauer follows a sustained campaign by the Indian arm of the US-based animal rights group, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

But Peta itself has been criticised by the head of an Indian animal welfare lobby for paying little regard to the impact its campaign is having on the welfare of humans.

It is another blow for India's leather exporters after other global chains like Gap, Liz Claiborne, J.Crew and Marks & Spencer also recently decided against buying Indian leather goods.

Sacred cows

Cows are venerated by the majority Hindu population in India and several states have made their slaughter illegal.

Cow in Jaipur
Cows cannot be slaughtered in some states
But Peta has documented evidence of cows, buffaloes and calves being transported for days in overcrowded trucks before being slaughtered.

Eddie Bauer, LL Bean and Casual Corner have indicated to Peta that they will not buy Indian products made from animal skins and hides, while others like Timberland will not be renewing their existing contracts.

The ban will continue until the Indian government takes steps to change the way in which animals are slaughtered and transported, said Jason Baker, India's Peta representative.

PETA 'unthinking'

The boycott has been criticised for harming the leather industry which is already slowing because of global recession.

"The leather industry employs more than 2.5 million people and is the second largest employer in the country," said Mohammad Hashim, the former chairman of the Indian Council for Leather Exports and now the head an animal welfare committee.

"Sixty percent of the employees are women, many of them the only bread earner in the family. Has Peta thought about what will happen to these millions of people if the industry closes down?" he said.

India's share of the global leather market is less than 2%, but it is still a major foreign currency earner, bring in $2bn in the year to March 2001.

Misdirected blame

It is also unfair to blame the leather exporters alone according to Mr Hashim.

"The cattle are cruelly exploited first by the farmer who sells them to the unscrupulous syndicate of transport operators and butchers once the cows are of no use to him," said Mr Hashim.

"We do not run these slaughter houses. We just buy leather from the open market. It's for the government to ensure that animals are not killed in a cruel manner," he said.

The leather industry has lobbied the government to create laws banning animal cruelty.

See also:

17 Jan 01 | South Asia
Indian bull run banned
15 Aug 01 | Business
IMF downbeat on India
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