Shopping with a social conscience has, arguably, never been easier. There are more choices than ever for the eco-minded consumer. That might mean maintaining a strictly vegan closet, or opting for ethically sourced leather. But what if you can't even be sure what type of leather you're buying? Leather production has traditionally been big business in China, and in the past two years, evidence has surfaced that dog leather manufactured there has stealthily been used and sold worldwide (including in the U.S.), according to PETA Asia. The animal-rights organisation hasn't pinpointed specific brands that have sold products made from dog leather, making it tricky to fully ensure you're not accidentally purchasing the unsavoury material. (For a sense of the issue's scale, in one factory visited in the investigation, there were 30,000 semi-finished dog leather pieces, according to a PETA rep.) In December, a few members of U.S. Congress spoke out against the subversive sale of the contentious material: Tennessee representative Steve Cohen, Nevada representative Dina Titus, and Florida representative Alcee L. Hastings sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, about the issue. The trio of senators urged the CBP to help "prevent such goods from being sold to unwitting American merchants and customers" and to consider checking random samplings of imported leather. The import and sale of leather and fur made from cats or dogs has been banned in the U.S. since 2000, but it's practically impossible to discern dog leather from cow or pigskin (especially if the material is mislabeled or not labeled at all). "These articles are never labeled 'dog leather,' so it's impossible to say how much dog leather might already be on U.S. store shelves and in people's wardrobes," a PETA spokesperson told Refinery29 via email, adding that the leather industry in China is largely unregulated. Last March, actor (and longtime vegan) Joaquin Phoenix made a video about the horrific practice.
"In American culture, dogs are cherished pets and are considered a member of the family... Accordingly, Americans would not want to hold their four-legged companion's leash with a dog-skin glove," the Congressional reps' letter reads. Preventative measures could entail CBP issuing an advisory about the situation, says the PETA rep: "CBP has issued consumer warnings in the past with regard to potentially unsafe goods, and a notification to consumers that would help them avoid inadvertently purchasing dog or cat leather would also be an appropriate consumer-protection measure." (Though PETA's ultimate solution, as one might expect, is for consumers to forgo leather altogether.) While the names on this missive represent a relatively minuscule portion of Congress' 435 members, this could be the start of a larger dialogue about the practice, and the nebulous ethics and origins of what we're buying and wearing.