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  • UNIDO leatherpanel shoe last publications leather products

Determination of global, regional or (sub)sectoral development trends is the part of the mandate and service of UNIDO. Governments and industrialists, as well as international organizations are in need of well-informed forecasts on the leather trade – raw hides and skins availability, chrome-free tanning, footwear consumption, genuine leather substitution and production automation, for example. A number of surveys and studies were prepared by UNIDO for the consideration of the Leather Panel (and earlier system of consultations) meetings to highlight trends and/or expected future developments of the leather-related trade.

Studies by other UN agencies and non-UN international organizations supplement the information on trends and provide forecasts for the leather trade.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have issued multiple studies – some of them in cooperation with UNIDO – that address developments in leather-based industry and trade.

The Global Leather Coordinating Committee (GLCC) in 2013 sought to identify real and perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of importance to the leather industry. This paper sets down a mosaic of major issues stemming from these considerations.This paper was published in the World Leather (February/March 2014).

Primitive tools made of stones and bones were the first equipment used for removing unwanted substances (fat, meat, hair) from the cured/conservated (by minerals) animal hides in order to protect the human foot and the body. For thousands of years only pits, various hand tools and simple machines were used in processing leather and making derived products such as shoes, gloves, bags, belts, harness and upholstery. With the gilds manufacturing processes were split into distinct operations that facilitated the construction of mechanisms and machines to assist manual workers or later to replace them. Mechanization of leather processing and leather products production started with the industrial revolution and accelerated by the invention of electric engines. Tanneries making leather from raw animal hides/skins use today heavy moving vessels (paddles, drums, mixers), mechanical and hydraulic equipment became a capital intensive and energy consuming industry. Nevertheless, basic principles of leather processing has not changed, automation made a limited impact on this industry. Chrome tanning will probably dominate leather making in the next decades, more and more through feed types of machines will be applied, but solid and liquid waste recycling or disposal remains the major problem of this trade. In spite of introduction of new and productive technologies (CAD/CAM, injection moulding etc.) leather products manufacturing is still a labour intensive industry. Future development is expected from robotization, further computerization, use of biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Use of commodities made of leather (derived from animal hides/skins) will be influenced by tendencies in meat consumption (raw hides/skins are by-products of the meat industry), achievements of the material science (development of synthetic leather substitutes having the same or even better hygienic and wear properties as leather) and additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing.) 

This survey prepared and presented during the 17th UNIDO Leather Panel is a follow-up to Worldwide Study of the Leather and Leather Products Industry, which was the outcome of an exhaustive survey carried out by UNIDO in the 1970s. It is intended to assist the Organization in the formulation of future assistance programmes and in detecting areas where further study of various kinds may be useful. This report assesses the worldwide prospects of the leather and leather products industry in the coming decade. It examines the major underlying trends of recent years and how they are expected to evolve in the short to medium term. In its attempt to provide a thorough picture of the leather sector, the report covers its various aspects: the availability of raw material, the tanning industry, and the manufacture of footwear and other leather products. The basic intention is to help discern prevailing trends in global trade and to support efforts to design an effective role for organizations in the industrial development arena. The findings and forecasts published here are meant to be indicative rather than definitive and to form a basis for further surveys and studies. The need to compile this report arose out of the 16th session of the UNIDO Leather and Leather Products Industry Panel held in Brazil in May 2007. The panel recommended that UNIDO undertake a comprehensive study on the future development of the world leather and leather products industry, a study that would cover demand, technology, production, and trade. Consequently, the UNIDO study provides an analysis of the contemporary demand for leather products (footwear, leather goods, gloves, leather garments, sports goods, upholstery, etc.) vis-à-vis the availability of resources (raw hides and skins, manufacturing capacities, skilled labour, knowledge, support industries, and services). It also contains information on other important aspects of the leather industry: trade statistics, the geographic distribution of production, technology developments, physical infrastructure, environmental conditions, and social aspects involved in the production of leather.

Leather industry is a strategically important sector for the economic and industrial development of many African countries. It has an abundant and renewable resource base in Africa’s large population of cattle, sheep and goats; it has a great employment potential, especially in the downstream part (manufacture of footwear & leather goods). However, there are major obstacles to overcome to realize its potential. Possibly the main problem are poor flaying and preservation practices and inadequate collection infrastructure. This guide is designed to be used by development agencies, policy makers, industrialists, financiers, investors, traders and farmers to open up new opportunities for better utilization of hide & skins resources and increasing the added value along the processing chain.

The objective of the study prepared in 2007 for the 16th UNIDO Leather Panel was to evaluate the continuous growth of the China/Vietnam competition in the footwear sector, to assess the situation of the industry in the rest of the world, to come up with possible future scenarios and to propose strategies/actions for enhancing the competitiveness of developing countries. 

This paper prepared in 2007 for the 16th session of UNIDO Leather Panel analyzes the prevailing situation of the African leather and leather products sector in the context of the global leather-based industry. It attempts to identify and highlight the key issues regarding raw material/hides and skins production, quality and trade. Important aspects of processing of hides and skins to semi-processed and finished leathers including marketing are considered. 

The objective of this survey is to provide an independent and reliable review of the Chinese footwear industry and trade.

This study 
• assesses the scale of the industry and how it achieved its present size and status; 
• describes the industry as it is today in all its various facets such as ownership, labour availability etc.; 
• considers how much further the Chinese footwear industry is likely to grow and whether there is some equilibrium point it will reach and if so what that is likely to be and when this 
will happen. 

The survey was presented during the 15th UNIDO Leather Panel held in Leon/Mexico 2005.

What is future of the chrome tanning? What will be used as a tanning agent in horizont of 50 years? In this paper prepared in 1999 Mr. Frendrup analyzed possible trends and scenarios of leather manufacture. Many issues and predictions are still relevant, especially those concerning the recent EU regulations. For additional information see also IULTCS papers concerning chrome tanning



In a number of these countries, particularly the least developed countries amongst them, raw hides and skins are among a very few national resources they possess. However, tanning and leather products industries have not received the very high priority they deserve in the national economy. Almost all the national governments concerned have exerted great efforts and spent much capital to build up leather industries; in some cases successfully, but unfortunately often with very unsatisfactory results. Paper prepared for the 3rd UNIDO Leather Panel in 1979 highlights some of the problems.

These world-wide studies prepared quite some time ago by leading professionals to facilitate the work of UNIDO Leather Panel are still quite interesting. Some of the logic might be useful for making projections for the future of leather-based industry globally.