Inside the Leather Industry

Cows Abused and Killed for Their Skins

Every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals for their skins. In Asia, much of the leather is made from the skins of cows and their young, who previously endured all the horrors of the meat or dairy industries—including extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, castration with no pain relief, branding, tail-docking, dehorning, and cruel treatment during transport and slaughter. When the milk production of cows on dairy farms wanes, the animals are sent to slaughter and their skins are made into leather. The hides of male calves born into the dairy industry—who are raised for veal—are made into high-priced calfskin. Buying leather directly contributes to factory farms and slaughterhouses, because skin is the most economically important coproduct of the meat and dairy industries.

Despite the belief that cows are treated well in India because they are revered by some, India is one of the world’s largest leather producers. A PETA India investigation found that cows are marched over excruciatingly long distances to illegal slaughterhouses. When they collapse from exhaustion, workers break their tails and rub chili peppers and tobacco into their eyes in order to force them to get up and continue walking.

Other cows—as many as 50 at a time—are crammed into trucks designed to hold no more than a dozen animals. During the rough journey to the slaughterhouse, they accidentally gore and trample one another. Once they arrive at the filthy slaughterhouse, their feet are bound together and their throats are cut.

From Pigs to Pythons—Other Animals Suffer, Too

Leather is also made from horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs who are killed for their flesh—and it doesn’t stop there.

Other “exotic” animals, such as alligators and crocodiles, are factory-farmed for their skins and flesh. PETA U.S. investigators documented alligators crammed into filthy pools in Texas and crocodiles crowded into barren concrete pits in Africa. The animals are forced to live in these conditions for months or even years before finally being slaughtered for their skins. Farmed reptiles may be beaten to death or crudely hacked into with sharp tools and sometimes remain conscious and in agony for hours after they’re skinned.

Snakes are often stolen from their jungle homes and decapitated or skinned alive. A PETA investigation into Indonesia’s exotic-skins trade found headless snakes writhing and twitching in a pile. Because of their slow metabolism, snakes can suffer for hours or even days before they  die.

Shearling, contrary to many misconceptions, is not sheared wool—the term refers to a yearling sheep who has been shorn just once in his or her short lifetime. A shearling garment is made from the skin of a sheep or lamb who is shorn just before slaughter. The skin is tanned with the wool still on it.

Even dogs are bludgeoned and killed so that their skin can be turned into leather gloves, belts, jacket collar trim, and cat toys. A PETA investigation into the dog-leather industry in China documented that workers grabbed terrified dogs with a metal noose, clubbed them, and slit their throats. Some were still alive as the skin was peeled off their bodies. The leather products are often mislabeled and exported all over the world, so short of doing a DNA test, there’s no way to tell whose skin you’re really in.

How Leather Hurts the Environment

Raising and killing animals for food and leather requires huge amounts of feed, pastureland, water, and fossil fuels, and runoff from feedlots and dairy farms is a major source of water pollution. Turning skin into leather also requires massive amounts of dangerous chemicals, and studies have shown that people who work in and live near tanneries have higher rates of cancer and other diseases.

What You Can Do

With every pair of leather shoes sold, an animal is sentenced to a lifetime of suffering. Why not choose instead from the many fashionable nonleather shoes, jackets, belts, bags, and wallets that are available? Whether it comes from a cow, crocodile, snake, or dog, it’s all dead skin. Save animals, and pledge that the only skin you’ll wear is your own.