Norman would prefer to keep his skin. Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary

Leather is so commonly used in our clothing, shoes, and accessories that many people don’t give it a second thought. But the skins of animals are highly valuable products—more valuable than meat—and leather tanneries will commit almost any act of cruelty in order to continue profiting off animals.

The global leather industry takes the lives of more than 1 billion animals per year. Leather is typically made from cows, but also comes from exotic animals and even dogs and cats. In fact, 2 million cats and dogs are skinned alive each year in China, and the finished product is usually mislabeled to make a bigger profit.

Much of the world’s leather comes from India and China, where animal welfare laws are basically nonexistent. But regardless of where leather comes from, tanneries employ many of the same methods as factory farms, including confinement in filthy warehouses and cages, tail-docking and branding, all without painkillers.

Both beef and dairy cows are used for leather. Once they make it to the slaughterhouse, their throats are slit or they are stunned by a machine that delivers a blow to the head. They are hung up and skinned—sometimes while still conscious, kicking, and crying. To produce softer leather, tanneries kill calves. The softest skins are taken from unborn calves who have been removed from their mothers’ slaughtered bodies.

Leather isn’t just inherently cruel, it’s environmentally toxic. The chemicals and dyes added to leather cause pollution and make leather difficult to biodegrade. Because tanneries require a constant supply of water, they are usually near rivers, which become polluted with solid waste and toxic compounds.

Like fur, leather is still a symbol of luxury. But more and more people are learning about the agony and the suffering behind tanneries and demanding cruelty-free, eco-friendly alternatives. Check out PETA’s clothing guide for some tips on how to shop vegan.