Driving traceability forward

In January 2019 Scottish Leather Group welcomed a special delegation to Scotland from Swedish car company Volvo. They became the first automotive company to experience Scottish Leather Group’s end-to-end leather sourcing and production process in action.

The group visited an Aberdeenshire cattle farm, a red meat processor and finally rounded out their time with us by walking the processing line. Our visitors learned first-hand how we turn raw animal hides into the high quality luxury leather that plays an integral part in the global success of their vehicles.

Volvo’s visit was an important milestone in Scottish Leather Group’s on-going journey to become the world leader in sustainable and traceable leather.

Traceability begins in the fields of the suppliers we deal with and ends only when our leather is successfully delivered to our global customers with all its lifecycle information, traceability documentation and necessary guarantees in place.

That is quite easy to sum up in a sentence, but the reality of delivering a comprehensive and watertight leather traceability policy is somewhat more complex and keeps a Hide Procurement Director busy.

More and more people want to understand the provenance of their purchases, whether that’s the sources of the food they eat or the origins of the timber they use in DIY projects. Likewise we recognise that it is paramount for leather buyers to have full access to information. They want to know where their leather comes from, how the animals that provide the raw material were cared for, how the hide was harvested, treated and processed, and even the impact that supply chain shipping has on the environment.

The Scottish Leather Group has always advocated for innovation in the tanning industry. By the close of this year we will have introduced a world leading system of individual hide traceability. While the coronavirus lockdown may have slowed our progress slightly, it hasn’t stopped Scottish Leather Group working tirelessly behind the scenes. We are ready to get the hardware and software rolled out across our network as soon as the lockdown ends.

Our new tracing system will enable us to laser tag and code all hides at the point of origin, as each hide is harvested at the red meat processing plant. These individual identification codes will stay with their hide right through our treatment and tanning processes.

Customers will be able to confirm that the leather they are purchasing from Scottish Leather Group companies originated from UK farms who abide by the Five Freedoms Principles* and operate within the UK’s animal welfare regulations – the strictest in the world.

This unprecedented degree of traceability will give added assurance that our leather is the most ethically produced on the market. In a world where consumers regularly make purchasing decisions based on environmental and sustainability factors it gives our automotive, aviation and mass transit customers some very powerful marketing messages to pass on to end users.

It is often said that to see where a company is heading simply look at where it has come from, and in many ways it is how the Scottish Leather Group has operated for the last 180 years that is now offering us a competitive advantage in traceability.

Sourcing our raw hides locally within Scotland, England and Ireland – where all farmers and red meat processors are governed by the same high levels of stringent regulation – ultimately simplifies the auditing and benchmarking of our supply chain.

Around 20 years ago tanneries in the UK started buying hides directly from red meat processors, rather than negotiating through a network of agents. This simplified our procurement process, and is now enabling us to be first to market with individual hide identification.

Improved traceability has other knock-on advantages. One of the by-products of our tanning process, collagen, is an important ingredient in food manufacture, used to make sausage casings, confectionery, and other things. Any improvement in traceability and supply chain control widens our pool of potential collagen customers.

This is a very exciting time to be part of the leather tanning industry. We look forward to welcoming more of our global customers to our manufacturing base in Scotland so they can see for themselves how we make the highest quality natural leather with the most comprehensive lifecycle analysis in the sector.

Gareth Scott

Gareth Scott
Hide Procurement Director, NCT Leather and Lang

* The Five Freedoms Principles were developed by the UK’s Animal Welfare Committee and widely adopted worldwide.

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress