About 2.5 million workers in India’s leather industry toil and suffer. They work long hours with toxic chemicals for poverty wages, making shoes and clothes for western brands. Leather industry hubs like Agra, Tamil Nadu and Kolkata supply hides, leather, garments, accessories and footwear for export.
Employment is created through the growth of large-scale export centers. But accidents regularly occur. Machine operators get trapped. Workers cleaning underground waste tanks suffocate from toxic fumes or drown in toxic sludge at tannery premises. The workers include women and children.
In small, unregulated factories, workers have no social security cover such as state health insurance or pension and earn a tiny fraction of the products' global price. India is the world’s second largest producer of footwear and leather garments and almost 90 per cent of India's footwear exports go to the European Union.
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. Dalits and Muslims make up the majority of the workforce. It’s necessary for brands to increase the traceability and transparency of their supply chains up to the level of tanneries and subcontractors.