Trading under the names Brantano, Scapino , Dolcis, Manfield, Invito, PRO, Kwantum, and others, Macintosh Retail Group says it has agreed to allow TFT, an independent nonprofit charity, to take a selection of its shoes, bags, textiles, bedding, furniture and other products and pull them apart, identifying every component and following it back to its source to find a way to produce the company’s products legally and sustainably.

‘We are committed to using the systems originally developed by TFT to monitor wood supply chains to become the only major retailer in Europe to offer independently-verified forest responsible shoes, clothing and home products,’ said Eric Coorens, chief operating officer of the Macintosh Retail Group, which serves 200 million consumers a year at 1,249 stores in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and France.

TFT has developed a sophisticated tracking system that allows its member companies, including home improvement retailers B&Q in the UK, Kwantum in the Netherlands, France’s Castorama and Leroy Merlin, and the US’s Crate and Barrel, to verify that the tropical wood products they purchase come from sustainable or legal sources. The charity will now turn its expertise to doing the same thing for shoes, bags, bedding and other consumer products.

‘We will be able to ensure that cows, goats and pigs that supply the leather have not been grazing on illegally cleared land,’ said Scott Poynton, executive director of TFT. ‘But the average shoe has many other environmental issues we’ve been asked to address-chemiicals used in the tanning process, and seriously nasty glues that are used to make shoes, bags and other products. Also, what about labor conditions in the factories? Macintosh, its leadership and its board of directors have today taken the lead by committing their firm to transforming their supply chain, and in the case of leather, working with new farmers who are willing and able to produce the leather legally.’

Poynton noted the intention of all concerned to be ’transparent’ about progress in producing a ‘green’ shoe. ‘We don’t want to bring a product to market as a responsible product, when it’s not,’ Poynton said. ‘And if we’ve used organic cotton but the product has been manufactured using child labor, then we are not OK. This is an enormous and ambitious undertaking and will require us to take advantage of the TFT staff we have in the field globally to provide technical assistance to raw material producers and to factories and to closely examine how products are produced.’

‘We’re delighted that Macintosh Retail Group is willing to draw on consumer power to fight illegal and irresponsible deforestation, and to extend their commitment to a range of products,’ Poynton said. ‘Most people don’t associate shoe leather with deforestation, but much of the leather sold in the world today comes from cattle grazed in pastures carved out of millions of hectares of irreplaceable rainforest.’

A recent report from Greenpeace found that cattle ranching occupies about 80 percent of the 70 million of hectares of rainforest that has been cleared in the Amazon basin. Most of that ranching drives a lucrative trade in meat products but leather is a major money-maker as well. For example, in 2008, leather accounted for about one quarter of Brazil’s US $6.9 billion cattle trade. (See Slaughtering the Amazon, Part 1, page i of executive summary.

Coorens noted that his company cannot alone reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing shoes and other goods. He called on his colleagues throughout industry to join the movement he hopes to start in working with TFT.

‘This is a global problem in the production of shoes and other consumer goods,’ Coorens said. ‘Suppliers in the developing regions can expect TFT to work with them. The goal is not to beat them up but to help them to play a role in saving the forests and their own people from the impact of toxic glues and illegal plantations that destroy valuable resources.’

Under the agreement with Macintosh, TFT will set up systems for tracing and verifying the sources for components of shoes and other products sold by the company, helping to ensure the consumer goods contain only sustainably-produced raw materials.

‘The whole idea of a responsible shoe or mattress, for example, is that we’re looking to address all the social and environmental issues embedded in the Macintosh shoe or mattress,’ Poynton said. ‘It’s about working down the supply chain, step by step, until we find how something has been produced and where, and whether they are producing the product legally and sustainably.’