Hell for Leather

GMB Akash

In Bangladesh's tanneries, noxious chemicals and a complete absence of health and safety regulations has been causing generations of workers to die an early death for an industry that is worth $ 1 billion a year.~~Bangladesh's leather industry is worth over $ 1 billion a year and around 20,000 people are employed in the hundreds of tanneries operating along the banks of the Buriganga River in the southwest of Dhaka, the capital. Yet while this industry provides a livelihood for tens of thousands of workers and their families, the working conditions and chemicals used in the tanning process can have devastating effects on the health of the workers and a complete lack of safety and environmental regulations has caused severe pollution of surrounding waterways. Add to this the widespread use of child labour in Bangladesh's tanneries and the whole industry became yet another dangerous and dubious sector of the national economy alongside more infamous sectors like the garment industry.

For 200 taka ($ 2.50) Monu, a 21 year old tannery worker who has been doing this job for 15 years, was able to buy a pair of gum boots, a prized item for workers who spend long periods submerged knee-deep in a toxic cocktail of chemicals including chromium sulfate, lead, lime, hydrogen sulphide, sulphuric acid and bleach. Though his wife is worried about his health, with a persistent cough and rashes on his skin undoubtedly being caused by the noxious chemicals used in the tannery, Monu can't imagine doing anything else, having no other transferrable skills. His 8,000 take ($ 105) wage is just enough for the couple and Monu waves off his wife's concerns by saying: 'Women are fools! She thinks tannery labourers die earlier. Allah is the one who decides.'~~Most of the tanneries are shoddily built, with a complete lack of fans to circulate the air and extract the poisonous fumes produced during the process. When the workers take a break from their grinding labour, they simply fall asleep on top of the piles of raw leather stacked up everywhere. Those who want to catch a bit of fresh air can go outside but are confronted by walls of acrid smoke billowing out of the dozens of factories operating side by side. Drains collecting the effluent from the tanneries run deep with red slurry that has been flowing untreated into the Buriganga River for over six decades.~A tannery worker is easily identified by his smell - a pungent odour that reeks of rotten eggs, rotting fish and ammonia. As Omar Faruk, a seasoned tannery worker recounts: 'When we travel by bus, nobody will sit next to us. One day a man said to me You must come from hell'.

 

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      Bangladesh

      Workers handling hides at a tannery.

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188401

      Bangladesh

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      Bangladesh

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      Bangladesh

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      Bangladesh

      Workers dunking leather hides in dye vats at a...

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      00188467

      Bangladesh

      A worker at a tannery.

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      00188451

      Bangladesh

      Workers dunking leather hides in dye vats at a...

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      00188471

      Bangladesh

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      00188400

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      Bangladesh

      Workers hanging leather at a tannery.

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      Bangladesh

      A worker at a tannery.

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      00188484

      Bangladesh

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      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188412

      Bangladesh

      A worker handling hides at a tannery.

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188475

      Bangladesh

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      Bangladesh

      A man dunking leather hides into a dye vat at a...

      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188450

      Bangladesh

      A worker rests on a pile of leather scraps at a...

      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188433

      Bangladesh

      A worker handling hides at a tannery.

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188487

      Bangladesh

      Workers handling hides at a tannery.

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      00188406

      Bangladesh

      A worker surrounded by hides at a tannery....

      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188408

      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188416

      Bangladesh

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      00188420

      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188421

      Bangladesh

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      00188428

      Bangladesh

      A worker scrapes a hide at a tannery.

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188438

      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188441

      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188442

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      © G.M.B. Akash

      00188486

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      Bangladesh

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      © G.M.B. Akash

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