DHAKA – 58 global investors have written to the Government of Bangladesh expressing concern over human rights and environmental practices in the country’s leather tanneries. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of institutional investors, claim in an open letter that workers in tanneries in Hazaribagh and Savar operate in hazardous environments with little protective gear. They also claim many workers are underage – an accusation local authorities strenuously deny. In 2017, the total value of leather and leather goods exports from Bangladesh stood at US$1.2bn, accounting for 3.54 per cent of the country’s total merchandise exports.
Says the letter: “Investors are concerned about the fact that workers engaged in the leather industry are often underage, despite the fact that Bangladesh prohibits work by anyone under 18 at a tannery. We urge the government of Bangladesh to inspect tanneries for child labour and to provide beneficial alternatives for child workers identified.
“Workers 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.”
The investors cite the death of two workers from hydrogen sulphide inhalation at the Savar tannery estate in May 2018, arguing that authorities need to inspect tanneries to enforce occupational health and safety laws.
The ICCR said that 110 of 155 factories have now relocated to Savar from Hazaribagh but the primary component of the move – a Central Effluent Treatment Plant – is yet to be fully functional and there is therefore no effective system yet in existence to remove salt from effluent.
Due to the absence of fully functional waste management infrastructure, it is claimed the tanneries are now polluting the Dhaleshwari River.
The ICCR urged the government to conduct and publish a formal assessment of environmental degradation in Hazaribagh and to create an action plan for the cleanup of the Buriganga River as it is claimed that factories that were located in the area dump around 21,600 cubic meters of untreated waste into the river on a daily basis.