Over the past decade the export value of Bangladeshi leather and leather goods has grown significantly. This growth potential presents opportunities as well as challenges for the labour conditions of workers in the country’s tanning and leather industries. This report presents the results of field and desk research into the labour issues of workers in the Bangladeshi leather sector, and into the supply chain links between Bangladesh’s tanning and leather industries, and export markets.
Bangladeshi tanneries and leather workshops produce a full range of leather, from wet blue to finished leather, and leather products ranging from bags and belts to shoes. Around 50 per cent of the leather produced in Bangladesh is exported, mainly in the form of semi-finished leather. The remaining 50 per cent is used for the production of shoes and leather goods. Although domestic hides and skins account for 90 per cent of the raw material used for these leather products, Bangladesh also imports hides and skins to process.
Agents and buying houses play an important role in the export of leather and leather products, but tanneries sometimes also have direct relations with foreign leather goods manufacturers. The main export destinations for leather are Hong Kong, China, Italy, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Spain. Among the main importers of leather goods are Belgium, Germany and the United States. Most of the leather shoes produced in Bangladesh are shipped to the EU, followed by Japan and the United States. The research team identified several specific supply chain links, but the general lack of transparency in the industry makes it difficult to uncover relationships between brands, retailers and producers of leather in Bangladesh.
Some 75,000 workers are employed in the tanning and leather industry in Bangladesh, of which 15,000 work in the Hazaribagh tanneries. This report reveals that there are under-aged workers in the workforce – the youngest was 11 when she started working for a Hazaribagh tanner. In total, 22 per cent of the interviewed workers were younger than 18 at the start of their employment and 7 per cent of the interviewed workers were younger than 14 when they started working for their current employer. In addition, workers at one tannery and at one workshop indicated that several of their colleagues were younger than 14 years old.
For years there have been plans to relocate these tanneries to a new site in Savar, Dhaka. The new site would include a modern effluent plant to address current adverse environmental impacts. Although the construction of new tanneries offers opportunities for improved workplaces, the fact that there are currently no plans to build social facilities such as houses, schools, medical facilities and mosques means that relocation will negatively impact workers’ and their families’ lives. Continued dialogue and campaigning is necessary to ensure that both the government and the employers fulfil their duties and responsibilities towards the workers. In addition, tanning industry trade unions must make sure they have permission, access and accommodation in order to be able to conduct their work at the new site.
The objective of this study is to provide insight into the supply chain links between Bangladesh’s tanning and leather industries, and export markets. A second objective is to provide information about the working conditions in the Hazaribagh-based tanneries and leather workshops.