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Abuses rife at Bangladesh tanneries

Labor and human rights and environmental practices are being violated in Bangladesh’s leather sector. Workers labor in tanneries in hazardous environments and many of them are underage despite the fact that Bangladesh prohibits work by anyone under 18 at a tannery. They are exposed to heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead and arsenic, as well as biocides, acids, bases and dyes, and usually have little protective gear to safeguard themselves from exposure to these hazardous chemicals. Workers are often soaked in chemicals and frequently breathe in hazardous fumes.

Tannery workers often suffer fever, eye inflammation, skin diseases and cancer as they work with toxic chemicals and rarely have any safety training or protection. They work long hours with toxic chemicals for poverty wages, making shoes and clothes for western brands. Accidents regularly occur. Machine operators get trapped. Workers cleaning underground waste tanks suffocate from toxic fumes or drown in toxic sludge at the tannery premises. Deaths often occur due to hydrogen sulphide inhalation.

Due to the absence of a fully functional waste management infrastructure, the tanneries dump thousands of cubic meters of untreated waste into rivers and fill the water with toxic chemicals. The central effluent treatment plant is yet to be fully functional and there is no effective system yet in existence to remove salt from effluent.