From toxic tanneries to luxury leather

From toxic tanneries to luxury leather


The slum area of Hazaribagh, where this child plays, might look like a garbage dump, but it is the production site of luxury leather goods that are sold around the world.

Some products made here cost consumers a large amount of money. But the workers, including children, who produce them can pay a high price too, as they are exposed to hazardous chemicals and often injured in horrific accidents, according to a Human Rights Watch study.

. DHAKA, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

None of the tanneries packed cheek by jowl into Dhaka's Hazaribagh neighbourhood treat their waste water, which contains animal flesh, sulphuric acid, chromium and lead. Instead the dirty fluid is left to spew into open gutters and eventually the city's main river.

"Hazaribagh's tanneries flood the environment with harmful chemicals," said Richard Pearshouse, author of the Human Rights Watch report. "While the government takes a hands-off approach, local residents fall sick and workers suffer daily from their exposure to harmful tannery chemicals."

DHAKA, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Bangladesh's industry minister, Dilip Baura, told Reuters the government was aware of the pollution and health hazards in Hazaribagh, but they would be tackled under a plan to relocate the tanneries to an area outside Dhaka by the middle of 2013.

Currently, up to 15,000 people are employed in tanneries in the foul-smelling slum.

. DHAKA, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Pearshouse found that children, some as young as 11, were employed by tanneries for around 1,000 taka ($12.29) a month. They were engaged in risky work, such as soaking hides in chemicals, cutting tanned hides with razor blades and operating dangerous machinery.

. DHAKA, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

A worker dries leftover cattle hides and skins at a fire as part of the leather-making process. Premium cattle hides and skins are typically produced for export, while leftovers are usually used to produce lower grade leather for the local market.

. KARACHI, Pakistan. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

At least 90 percent of the leather and leather goods produced in Bangladesh come from Hazaribagh. The area is a rapidly growing source of export income for the poor South Asian country, worth $663 million in the financial year 2011/12, with China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United States the main buyers.

Models sporting luxury handbags await their turn to take the catwalk during Fashion Pakistan Week.