Global fashion giants panic over Indian ban on cattle slaughter

A man feeding cows at a cow shelter in New Delhi last month. India is the world's second-largest producer of footwear and leather garments, and sold $18 billion worth of goods last year.
A man feeding cows at a cow shelter in New Delhi last month. India is the world's second-largest producer of footwear and leather garments, and sold $18 billion worth of goods last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI •Indian exporters were scrambling on Tuesday to assure global clients like Zara and Giorgio Armani that their shipments would arrive, despite a government crackdown on cattle slaughter which threatens the lucrative leather industry.

The government last week declared a nationwide ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter, startling major fashion labels who buy billions of dollars worth of leather from India every year to make high-end shoes, handbags and jackets.

"They're calling and writing e-mails and asking what the consequences of this will be, and I don't know what to tell them," said Mr Mohammad Zia Nafees, whose Kolkata-based business sells finished leather to Zara and Marks & Spencer.

The controversial ruling effectively chokes off India's supply of beef and leather, and industry groups and some states, where cow slaughter has previously been permitted, have vowed to fight the decree.

On Tuesday, the Madras High Court in the southern state of Tamil Nadu temporarily suspended the ban, dealing the first legal blow to the controversial measure.

India is the world's second-largest producer of footwear and leather garments and sold US$13 billion (S$18 billion) worth of goods last year - nearly half to clients abroad.

"My family has been working with Radley and Armani for the last few decades and now they're asking us if we can fulfil our commitments to them," said Mr Imran Ahmed Khan from the Council for Leather Exports. "The industry is in panic mode...We have been handed a death certificate by the ruling Modi government."

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus and the new ban was justified on the grounds of avoiding animal cruelty. But critics have accused the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of pursuing a hardline religious agenda.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Global fashion giants panic over Indian ban on cattle slaughter'. Print Edition | Subscribe