Wednesday 24 October 2012
The Terrible Truth Behind Bangladeshi Leather
There's disturbing news coming out of Bangladesh, as Human Rights Watch highlight the environmental and humanitarian abuses committed by local leather tanneries: abuses that the government seem either unwilling or incapable of fixing.
The report on Bangladesh's Hazaribagh region, released earlier this month, reels off a horrific string of occupational hazards faced by leather workers. They suffer from skin diseases and respiratory problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to tan the hides, and limb amputations from improperly secured cutting machines.
The waste water that comes off the tannery floors goes directly back into the local supply. This water is tainted with chunks of animal flesh, and chemicals like sulphuric acid, chromium and lead. Children as young as 11 work full shifts in the factories, soaking hides in these chemicals and operating the razor-edged cutters that trim them. Workers are regularly denied sick leave or compensation for injuries caused on the job.
It's a shocking list of human rights and environmental abuses, and the Bangladeshi government are doing little to put it right. Plans to relocate the tanneries and shut down the worst of the offenders have been in bureaucratic deadlock since 2005, despite international rulings to safeguard the rights and safety of everyone in the territory.
In the meantime, the tanneries continue to blight the landscape, chasing profits that have risen by $41million per year in the last decade. The leather of Hazaribagh is worth big money to the multinationals that export it. To the people who work in the factories, it's all they have; a Catch-22 situation that the factory owners and the government are happy to exploit.
For more, I recommend a look at Human Rights Watch's page on the humanitarian and environmental crisis in Hazaribagh, which contains a link to the full report. It makes for shocking and eye-opening reading.