News You Really Need To See: “The Dark Stain on Bangladesh’s $1 Billion Leather Export Industry”

“The Dark Stain on Bangladesh’s $1 Billion Leather Export Industry”

Bloomberg Businessweek, November 13, 2014

“The Hazaribagh, or ‘Thousand Gardens,’ neighborhood in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka has no trees or flowers.  Instead, the industrial area is saturated with toxic chemicals from more than 200 leather tanneries polluting the air, water, and soil.  The stench of animal hides, garbage dumps, and furnace smoke is so foul, some locals wear face masks. … Bangladesh’s leather exports are a $1 billion-a-year industry, according to the Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau.  Competitive prices and improved quality have attracted an increasing number of importers from Asia and Europe.  Almost all of the country’s leather production, 80 percent, is exported.  As with Bangladesh’s notorious ready-made garment industry, there’s a huge local cost.  According to the government, an estimated 22,000 cubic meters of environmentally hazardous liquid waste, including hexavalent chromium, is dumped daily into the Buriganga River, Dhaka’s main waterway.  Skin and respiratory ailments are common among Hazaribagh’s 160,000-plus residents.  A November 2013 report by the New York-based Blacksmith Institute ranked the neighborhood among the 10 most polluted places on earth. … The worst conditions are endured by 8,000 to 12,000 tannery workers, who toil 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week for less than $2 a day, according to the local Tannery Workers Union.  Abdul Kalam Azad, head of the union, says even experienced workers with 10 or more years on the job rarely earn more than $150 a month.  In one factory, which supplies black leather to wholesalers in Hong Kong, Korea, and Italy, hides are churned in giant wooden drums filled with toxic chemicals such as chromium sulfate and arsenic, which are used to soften them.  Many workers handle the barrels without gloves and walk barefoot on floors covered in acid. … Human Rights Watch found no attempt by authorities to crack down on pollution, calling Hazaribagh ‘an enforcement-free zone’ in its 2012 report.  The group says that apart from paying the occasional fine amounting to several hundred dollars, politically connected owners continue to flout the country’s environmental codes without consequence….”

Quickie Analysis: A sobering look at the horrific costs of Bangladeshi leather that aren’t part of the price tag.

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