DHAKA – A new study claims most workers in Bangladesh’s export-oriented leather industry suffer from extreme health hazards due to unsafe working conditions. The Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, a Bangladeshi labour rights group, found 61 per cent of workers interviewed at Savar Leather Industrial Estate, near capital Dhaka, said they had been suffering from health problems. The research was based on interviews with 105 workers with more than eight years of work experience in tanneries, leather goods and footwear companies.
When questioned, 93 per cent of respondents said they had no training before joining the industry. In terms of particular health issues, about 27 per cent of workers said they were suffering from headaches, 19 per cent from skin burns, 16 per cent from hand and leg pains, 14 per cent from allergies, and 11 per cent from knee and back pain.
Tannery work is notoriously risky from a health and safety standpoint due to the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing, chemical gases, inadequate lighting, dust, noise, and the generally polluted environment.
“The findings are nothing new. Most workers suffer from health problems as owners neglect workers’ rights for huge profits. The majority of tanneries have no occupational and health safety system for workers,” Abul Kalam Azad, president of the Bangladesh Tannery Workers Union, said.
“The workers are mostly illiterate and have no other job skills, so they keep doing the job even if they face extremely unhealthy, often life-threatening working conditions.
Pollution of the local environment is also a major issue for tanneries. Just this week Banglaesh’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Md Shahab Uddin, said strict action will be taken against pollution in the Savar tannery zone very soon. He gave the warning at a Targets for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) meeting where he also said: “We must take necessary action against pollution from the tanneries in Savar.”