Working conditions in Bangladesh have been in the spotlight since the Rana Plaza factory collapse earlier this year. And if you thought the sweatshops were bad, Bangladesh’s leather tanneries are proving to be far worse.
A new report from Al Jazeera examines the origins of the luxury leather goods that make their way from Hazaribagh, Dhaka, one of the five most polluted places on the planet. This is the base for the 200 tanneries providing leather to top fashion houses in Europe and around the world where sales generate over one billion dollars. Yet cooperation between the government and factory owners to improve environmental standards leave something to be desired, says the report.
The leather industry in this region is huge: every year 14 million raw hides are processed into leather in Bangladesh, which is then exported around the globe to be used at top fashion houses – Italy is the largest importer of Bangladeshi goods which in 2013 have amounted to some $85m.
But the environmental implications are horrendous, with the tanneries discharging around 21,000 cubic metres of toxic waste into gutters each day. These flow directly into Dhaka’s main river, causing major problems.
Who is responsible for such low environmental standards is up for debate. One tannery owner in Bangladesh, Mohammed Abu Taher, says that the owners are pressing the government to encourage cooperation on relocating the tanneries from Hazaribagh.
On the other hand, Industries Minister Dilip Barua said the government is committed to an environmentally-friendly tannery zone. However, little has been achieved due to disputes over who should take responsibility for the cost of moving.