Most people are quite aware that leather comes from animals, just like the meat they eat and various other food products they consume. Yet, more and more, people ask themselves questions about animal welfare. What about the animal itself, its life, and welfare? It’s not just a minor group of consumers, but businesses, organizations, and political institutes desire clarity on the topic for a wide range of reasons.

Animals and sentience

People care about animals, and if businesses want people to buy their goods – or if politicians want people to vote for them – they need to care as well. This is not new! The treatment of animals has been subjected to growing scrutiny for most of the last century. Public outcry resulted in legislation concerning the humane treatment in slaughterhouses in many countries, culminating in legislation from the European Commission in 1974. In 1999, however, animals were recognized as sentient beings, which lead to the Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals, published in 2006 and frequently subjected to improvements.

The strategy aims to improve the way farm animals in the European Union are housed, fed, transported, and slaughtered. Today, the EU is recognized for having some of the most humane farming, transport, and slaughtering practices in the world. Legislation and conditions are still being improved further, the more we learn about animals.

A new standard  

The EU rules cover the entire logistical chain. Farms, for example, must have enough staff to look after the animals, they should be inspected at least once a day and records must be maintained meticulously. The animals must also be able to move around, even if confined or tethered, and their accommodation must be clean, with good air circulation and appropriate lighting. Equipment must be checked regularly, with backups available in case of failure, and the animals must be fed a wholesome diet in sufficient quantities.

On transportation, animals should have appropriate space, water, feed, and rest, and the journey should be kept as short and swift as possible. This is why, for example, veal crates were banned in the UK as early as 1990. When it comes to slaughter, the animals must be kept comfortable, clean, fed, and protected from injury and distress during the process. The goals set for animal welfare and the reality still is often showing a gap, but through cooperative efforts throughout the supply chain, improvement is continuously taking place.

People care about animals, and if businesses want people to buy their goods – or if politicians want people to vote for them – they need to care as well

Animal welfare and leather

Legislation, however, is not the only factor improving animal welfare; the leather industry, too, is keen to do so. This is especially the case for automotive leather. These hides need to be thicker and larger than most, to meet the strict quality standards. They also need to be flawless to meet the quality required by car manufacturers. For this reason, automotive leather is usually sourced from some of the happiest and most well cared for cows in Europe.

Typically, this means farms in temperate climates, such as southern Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, where there are fewer mosquitoes and bugs (mosquito and bug bites can cause damage to the hides). Animals there can generally range freely (no barbed wire) and benefit from high-quality grass, hydration, and nutrition that are needed to achieve a full, thick and luxuriant hide. These animals get the kind of care and attention usually reserved for pedigree pets. Many leather producers also strive for traceability, to tackle one of the most persistent problems in every supply chain of product origin. Transparency is a definite value in the leather industry as it enables each link in the chain to have peace of mind on the animals’ quality of life.

As One 4 Leather, we believe firmly in abiding by the Five Freedoms for Animals, as described here

A changing supply chain from field to seat

As leather goods are derived from the agricultural industry, knowing that they’re sourced responsibly with the animal’s welfare in mind matters to customers. The combination of EU regulations and manufacturer demands for ethically sourced meat and hides has changed the way farms operate and directly affects the leather industry. Leading the field are big corporations such as McDonald’s, whose Flagship Farmers program is changing the face of best practice when it comes to animal welfare. Another example is the regenerative organics movement, which explores how soil and free-range cattle can help reinvigorate farmlands.

Tanneries and their regulatory bodies are further ensuring that individual hides can be traced from farm to manufacturer, so helping to ensure that legislation is upheld. The Leather Working Group (LWG), a UK-based online resource for stakeholders in the leather industry, has a section in their audit protocol to assess a supplier’s ability to trace their raw material back to the slaughterhouse. This ensures that member leather manufacturers clearly know where their raw material comes from.

And then there are the automotive companies. Here too we see a shift to sourcing humane products they can be proud of. Rolls-Royce sums it up neatly on its website: “The superior finish of Rolls-Royce leather begins with the hides from which it comes. The cows live freely – and their welfare is fundamental to the quality of their hides. Our carefully selected farmers understand this and genuinely care about the leather that comes from the cows they raise for food.”

As the supply chain unites behind this shared goal, we can be certain that animal welfare remains a top priority.


  • European Commission (2012) EU Animal welfare strategy: 2012-2015. [Accessed: 24 February 2020]
  • European Commission. 40 Years of Animal Welfare Infographic. Available at: 40 Years of Animal Welfare. [Accessed: 24 February 2020]
  • European Commission (2018) Guide to good practices for the transport of cattle. Available at: Animal Transport Guides. [Accessed: 24 October 2019]
  • European Court of Auditors (2018) Animal Welfare in the EU: closing the gap between ambitious goals and practical implementation. Available at: Animal Welfare in the EU. [Accessed: 24 February 2020]
  • Leather Working group (27 august 2019) LWG on Traceability. Available at: Leather Working Group. [Accessed: 24 February 2020]

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