LEATHER : about Human Rights , Pollution and Constitution .

Publié le par Isabella

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Workers pay high price at Bangladesh export tanneries.

STANDING barefoot in toxic chromium effluent at a tannery in Dhaka’s Hazari­bag district, 23-year-old leather worker Sumon fears his job is sending him to an early grave.

A decade of inhaling fumes from the chemicals used to turn Bangladeshi raw hide into soft leather for shoes to be sold in the West has given Sumon, who started working in the tannery at 13, a shallow cough and stabbing chest pains.

“I don’t like the work but I have no choice, I need the money,” said Sumon, who uses only one name, as he pulled freshly tanned skins out of huge barrels of blue-grey chromium liquid, which is used to process raw hide.

Cow and goat skins, caked in salt or still bloody from the slaughterhouse, are stacked in piles inside the tannery, but Sumon said the stench from the raw hides is the least of his problems.

When I first started, the chemical fumes made me so sick I couldn’t eat for two months, now I can’t even smell them,” he said. “We get no training, no safety equipment.

Workers have to learn to be careful with the chemicals. I had a few accidents at first,” he added, pointing to large, burn-like scars on his forearms and shins.

In Hazaribag district, home to hundreds of tanneries like the Salma Leather Co-operation where Sumon works, the environmental and public health costs of the rapid growth of global demand for cheap shoes are on full display.

The area, once a pleasant, semi-rural district in the Bangladeshi capital, is now a wasteland of toxic swamps, garbage landfills and mountains of decomposing leather scraps, surrounded by slums where tannery workers live.

Piles of smouldering trash line the banks of the nearby Buriganga, which is classified as a “dead” river after it hits Hazaribag as pollution from the tanneries has made it impossible for any fish or plantlife to survive.

Every day, the tanneries collectively dump 22,000 litres of toxic waste, including cancer-causing chromium, into the Buriganga – Dhaka’s main river and a key water supply – according to Bangladesh’s ministry of environment.

More than 90% of tannery workers suffer from some kind of disease – from asthma to cancer – due to chemical exposure, according to a 2008 survey by SEHD, a local charity, with local residents being almost as badly affected.

Despite their shocking environmental and work safety records, business is booming in Hazaribag, as growing global demand for footwear coupled with rising manufacturing costs in China prompt Western buyers to turn to Bangladesh.

Leather is the country’s fastest growing export, and Hazaribag’s tanneries produced the bulk of the 32 billion taka (US$460mil or RM1.42bil)) worth of leather shipped in 2009, mostly to Europe, Russia, Japan and China.


Leather exports were also up 45% from July to November 2010, with shoe shipments to American markets alone up 50% in the same period, according to export bureau figures.

Eager for the leather industry – and its export earnings – to grow, the Bangladeshi Government has long turned a blind eye to the rampant pollution and terrible working conditions inside the tanneries, activists say.

“The only reason the Hazaribag tanneries are allowed to operate is the export earnings,” said Rezwana Hossain, an environmental rights lawyer.

 “These tanneries are operating right in the middle of the city, in the middle of residential areas and they are continuing to pollute the major river of the city, year after year.

“If you look at the environmental damage, the killing of the Buri­ganga river, the pollution of the city’s water supply, the public health costs, then these export earnings don’t look so impressive.”

The industry’s export earnings could increase significantly in the next few years if Dhaka can capitalise on the “China effect“, said Sayed Nasim Manzur, managing director of ApexAdelchi, a joint venture shoe manufacturer.

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***also Pls read here ( +++Petitions to sign on the link ) :







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The Constitution of Bangladesh does not explicitly provide for the right to healthy environment either in the directive principles or as a fundamental right. Article 31 states that every citizen has the right to protection from 'action detrimental to the life liberty, body, reputation, or property', unless these are taken in accordance with law.

 It added that the citizens and the residents of Bangladesh have the inalienable right to be treated in accordance with law. If these rights are taken away, compensation must be paid.

Article 32 states: "No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law". These two articles together incorporate the fundamental 'right to life'. The following discussion suggests that this right to life includes the right to a healthy environment capable of supporting the growth of a meaningful 'existence of life'.


In 1994, a public interest litigation was initiated before the Supreme Court dealing with air and noise pollution.

The Supreme Court agreed with the argument presented by the petitioner that the constitutional 'right to life' does extend to include right to a safe and healthy environment. [26] In a recent case, the Appellate Division and the High Court Division of the Supreme Court have dealt with the question in a positive manner.

The Appellate Division, in the case of Dr. M. Farooque v. Bangladesh  has reiterated Bangladesh's commitment in the 'context of engaging concern for the conservation of environment, irrespective of the locality where it is threatened.' (Afzal, CJ, para. 17). This was a full court consensus judgment and the court decided:


"Articles 31 and 32 of our constitution protect right to life as a fundamental right. It encompasses within its ambit, the protection and preservation of environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water, sanitation without which life can hardly be enjoyed. Any act or omission contrary thereto will be violative of the said right to life." (Chowdhury,J, Para.101)


The High Court Division in the same case [28] expanded the fundamental 'right to life' to include anything that affects life, public health and safety. It includes 'the enjoyment of pollution free water and air, improvement of public health by creating and sustaining conditions congenial to good health and ensuring quality of life consistent with human dignity.' The court added that, if right to life means the right to protect health and normal longevity of any ordinary human being, then it could be said that the fundamental right to life of a person has been threatened or endangered.


These two cases show that the courts are willing to establish the right to a clean environment.

Another case presently pending before the High Court deals with commercial shrimp cultivation and its adverse effect on the socio-economic development and on sustainable development.

 According to the petitioner, commercial shrimp cultivation involves the 'usage of various chemicals and saline water'..which 'eventually makes the soil infertile and unsuitable for soil cultivation.

[I]t further damages the environment by causing stunted growth of the trees or their death, reducing the grazing areas for cattle by increasing water logging, and adversely affecting the size of the open water fish catch as a result of the dumping of chemicals into the river..shrimp cultivation will cause irreparable ecological and environmental damage to the community and to the livelihoods of the inhabitants of the said area.'

 The petitioners submitted that the government orders regarding commercial shrimp farming frustrated the spirit of Environmental Policy 1992 and breach of article 32 of the Constitution. 


 TEXT here :



Thanks to  FENIA




Leather factories wreak havoc on the environment. The leather tanneries around the Ganges have been cited for dumping toxic metals such as chromium into the river. All waste that contains chromium is considered hazardous. Tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants, such as protein, hair, salt, lime, sludge, sulphides and acids. Groundwater near tanneries has been found to contain highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide and formaldehyde.

People who work in and live near tanneries are dying of illnesses caused by constant exposure to toxic chemicals. Pollution such as the kind dumped into the Ganges by leather tanneries has been cited as a major cause of disease outbreaks and has also been implicated in the deaths of marine animals. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukaemia among residents near one tannery was five times the US average.


Leather Alternatives

It's easy to find high-quality, cruelty-free shoes and accessories that are stylish and inexpensive. Just about anywhere you shop, you can find a wide selection of non-leather jackets, shoes and accessories made from materials such as cotton, linen, ramie, jute, canvas and synthetics. Top designers are also using spun glass, polyvinyl chloride and pleather.


 A PLEDGE  to take : http://action.petaindia.com/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=111&ea.campaign.id=2873

Publié dans Human Rights

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