Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rights group asks buyers not to source from Hazaribagh tanneries

An international rights group yesterday urged the leather buyers at an international fair in Italy not to purchase leather goods from tanneries at Hazaribagh in Bangladesh, which do not abide by health and environmental laws.
Leather buyers should only purchase leather goods from tanneries which comply with the laws, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.
“Tanneries in the Hazaribagh area of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, do not meet these criteria.”
Starting yesterday, over 1,000 exhibitors from over 40 countries will show new leather products at the three-day Lineapelle leather fair in Bologna.
Among the exhibitors: Bay Tanneries and Bengal Leather Complex Ltd have tanneries in Hazaribagh.
“Despite requirements for wastewater treatment under both Bangladeshi labour and environmental law, there is no common effluent treatment plant for tanneries in Hazaribagh to treat industrial wastewater, nor do any of the tanneries there have their own treatment plants,” HRW said.
“Leather tanneries in the heart of Dhaka have been releasing toxic effluent into a densely populated neighbourhood for decades,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior health and human rights researcher at HRW.
“Foreign buyers at the Lineapelle fair shouldn’t buy products from companies that don’t abide by labour and environmental laws meant to protect people.”
“The international leather industry has a responsibility to identify and mitigate human rights risks,” Pearshouse said. “Avoiding polluting tanneries in Bangladesh is an important first step.”
In October 2012, the rights group released a 101-page report — Toxic tanneries: the health repercussions of Hazaribagh leather — that documented health problems among the local residents of Hazaribagh slums.
The residents complained of illnesses such as fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhoea caused by the extreme tannery pollution of air, water, and soil, according to the report. “Hazaribagh is one of the most polluted urban environments in the world,” Pearshouse said.
“The Bangladesh government should see that regulating Hazaribagh leather and addressing the ongoing health crisis among Hazaribagh’s residents and tannery workers is essential to protecting the economic benefits of this industry.”
In 2003, the country’s two main tannery associations agreed with the government that some 150 member-tanneries in Hazaribagh would relocate to a site outside of the city, and the government agreed to compensate these tanneries for some of the costs.
The government planned to prepare a relocation site in Savar by 2005, but completion of the site has been delayed numerous times.
“We want to shift our factories from Hazaribagh area, but the central effluent treatment plant is yet to be operationalised. We are waiting for the construction of CETP at Savar by the government,” Md Belal Hossain, chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leathergoods and Footwear Exporters’ Association, told The Daily Star.