Leather alternatives on World Consumer Rights Day

World Consumer Rights Day has been celebrated annually on March 15 since 1983. This day of action, organized by the international consumer organization Consumers International, is intended to draw the public's attention to the many aspects of consumer protection. It dates to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who on March 15, 1962, proclaimed, among other things, the fundamental right of consumers to be protected from deceptive and misleading advertising. For some time now, "vegan leather" has been touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to genuine leather. However, this fulfills the facts of consumer deception in two respects.

Firstly, the alternatives, which are predominantly made of synthetic materials, are not leather. The term leather is not standardized by law, but consumers associate the material with certain positive characteristics, such as longevity. Through the designation "vegan leather", the consumer may also assume that it has the same advantages, especially since this is also conveyed to him in the advertising messages. However, this is not the case, as numerous material studies (e.g., FILK, 2021) prove. This means that the consumer is deliberately deceived by the misuse of the leather term.

But it is not only in terms of functional properties that buyers are misled; in terms of environmental friendliness or sustainability, the alternatives do not deliver what is promised in the marketing messages. Most "vegan leather" today is still made from polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), both of which have a huge environmental impact. And even brands that claim to use plant-based materials often make only a small portion of their products from, say, cactus or pineapple peels, and the far larger portion is also made of plastic. A behavior that is probably best described by the term "greenwashing".

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