Increasing Awareness on OSH and the Capacity on Organizing and FOA For Shoe and Leather Workers in Bangladesh

Increasing Awareness on OSH and the Capacity on Organizing and FOA For Shoe and Leather Workers in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi leather sector plays a vital role to expand the Bangladeshi economy in terms of export and domestic market. Recently Bangladesh Government has declares tannery as one of the highest priority sector for the country. Though the sectors are most important for Bangladesh, but most of the workers are illiterate and migrated from villages aged between 18 and 32. Most of them, they do not have any idea of their rights alternatively there are no OSH training provided to them by the employers at the time of recruitment. Contribution of leather sector to GDP is increasing year on year. So, it has been expected within few years it will become an emerging sector of the economy of Bangladesh. In FY2015 it has been seen that the contribution of leather sector to GDP is 1.06 percent of the total projected value of GDP at the terms of constant price, where leather footwear added major portion. But in FY14 it was 1.13 percent in terms of total actual value of GDP.

The relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh to the 200-acre tannery estate set up by the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries at Savar has been overdue since 2002. The project has been revised several times although it is completely funded by the Bangladesh Government own fund. The Government sets the deadline to transfer the factories several time during the year 2016 and finally set a latest timeline to 31st January 2017. After the final declaration, the owners are started moving to the new tannery estate. Until December 2016 about 50 tannery shifted only their wet blue section to the Savar Tannery Estate. About 300 workers from Hazaribagh have shifted to Savar. But the construction of a central effluent treatment plant, has yet to be completed. Out of 4 modules they have run 2 modules and those two modules are not running in full swing. As a result the nearby river water is becoming polluted. For releasing untreated tannery wastes to the river Dhaleshwari, a committee of Bangladesh Government proposing a US$ 1,00,000 daily fine on JLEPCL-DCL-JV, a Chinese company responsible for building and operating central effluent treatment plant (CETP) at the newly-established Savar Tannery Estate.

It's no secret that Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries and that its laborers earn some of the lowest wages. Its garment factories’ dangerous working conditions have been well-documented. But there's another industry in the country that is even more threatening to workers’ health and the environment: tanneries that produce leather for clothes, shoes, handbags, jackets, belts and luggage sold around the world.

Tannery workers are the worst sufferers and endure a hostile environmental condition. Workers usually handle chemicals with open hand and do not wear any gloves. The workers suffer from various health problems and illness like skin diseases, diarrhea, jaundice, fever, kidney problems etc. The chemicals used in the tanning process can cause cancers of the lungs, nose and bladder. According to Society for Environment and Human Development survey in 2014, 58 percent of tannery workers suffer from gastritis or ulcers, 31 percent suffer from skin diseases, and 10.6 percent suffer from rheumatic fever – all of which are far higher percentages compared to Bangladesh’s general population. At least 90 percent of the Hazaribag tannery workers die before they reach the age of 50 due to unhygienic working-environment. The toxic threat of the tanneries isn’t just limited to the workers. About 22,000 cubic meters of environmentally hazardous liquid waste is emitted from them every day, flowing into the Buriganga River, Dhaka's main water way which eventually made the environment of Dhaka in much danger.

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