28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 18

Banned wagon: global

A weekly survey of world restrictions on freedom and free trade

WESTERN nations are reluctantly coming to accept that the days of keeping Third World produce out of their markets through trade tariffs and subsidies are numbered. But even in the unlikely event of every tariff and subsidy being abolished, there would still remain one powerful weapon in the hands of Western protectionists: the 'enlightened' consumer boycott.

For some time the pressure group Peta — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been running a campaign against imports of Indian leather, on the grounds that Indian cattle are subjected to cruelty. Animals are tied by the nose, claims the group, and forced on to the backs of lorries by having tobacco and chilli powder rubbed into their eyes. The dossier produced by Peta has succeeded in persuading several large companies in Europe and America, including DaimlerChrysler, Mays department stores and Mothercare, to join a boycott and promise not to source any of their leather products from India.

Certainly some of the photographs produced by Peta are damning. Cattle are piled on top of each other in the back of a lorry, battered and bleeding, being prodded by Indian-looking gentlemen. Whether this is normal in India is another matter; indeed, if all cattle were subjected to the treatment shown in one of the photographs, any seats of MercedesBenz's that were manufactured before the boycott would be lacerated.

What is fascinating is that Peta also chronicles maltreatment of animals in the American cattle industry. It describes a cow being dragged off the back of a truck with a rope around its neck and breaking its pelvis when it lands on the road. It claims to have discovered animals being skinned alive, being poked in the eyes by stockmen, and kicked in the ribs and back. Strangely, however, the great ethical champions of US and European commerce have not launched a parallel boycott of American leather products; all of which makes one wonder who the boycott of Indian leather is really for: Indian cows or Western farmers?

Ross Clark