Trouble for the Leather Sector in Bangladesh

The tannery sub sector in Bangladesh is suffering due to a number of reasons such as an unskilled workforce, a lack of financing and poor marketing. However, exploitive labor conditions and destructive environmental practices that have brought international criticism and sanctions still take the lead when it comes to evaluating the reasons for evaluating the damage.

The tannery sub sector is responsible for being a source of livelihood for 92% of the total workforce in the leather trade. 

For decades, pollution from tanneries at the main industrial site in Dhaka poured into the Buriganga River.  In 2017, culminating a government campaign that began in 2001, the tanners were forced to move their factories to the newly built Tannery Industrial Estate (TIE) located in Savar. 

The problem isn’t that the tanneries refused to shift. Close to half the factories have completed moving. The problem is that planned capabilities are not yet installed at the TIE.  The new location includes a central effluent treatment plant (CETP), able to treat 30,000m3 of liquid effluents a day, and additional facilities for chrome recovery, water treatment, and sludge treatment. However, with the CETP still not functioning at full efficiency, sludge is now being dumped in an open yard, and untreated water is regularly dumped into the neighboring Dhaleshwari River, causing severe pollution.

As a result, the Dhaleshwari River water has now become unsuitable and toxic. Farmers close by, who make up three-fourths of the people living on the river bank, have stated that they can no longer use the river water for irrigation purposes. Nor can they use the river water to bathe, or wash their cattle.

For the workers, Savar has its own problems. Housing, transportation, and food are more expensive. With most of the workers being wagers, they enjoy no benefits or allowances for their higher expenses. Most of them work without formal employment agreements, factory identity cards, or provisions for leaves of absence. Women receive no maternity leave. Moreover, the majority lacks personal protective equipment, and operates tools and machinery without adequate safety measures. Most tanneries, apart from a few larger ones, do not follow national or international standards for storing, transporting, or using potentially poisonous chemicals. Therefore workers and supervisors commonly suffer from diseases of the skin and lungs, headaches, diarrhea, and fatigue. Some small and medium-size factories don’t provide pure drinking water or gender-sensitive washrooms either.

In order to boost exports, workers and owners both need to realize their common interest in obtaining a certification from the LWG. The certification from the Leather Working Group (LWG) demonstrates compliance with the labor and environmental standards of international markets, deeming products as ethical.


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