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Social media conversations can be enlightening. A few days ago a picture about a day in a tannery was posted on Instagram. It showed quite a new, open building but a very messy scene. Raw hides, wet-blue and what looks like horsed whole hide wet dyed hides all in the one area being handled in a hap-hazard manner. It was also pretty clear that the workers were not wearing protective clothing of any sort.
When I queried this, the answer came back that the workers do not wear enough protective clothes or gloves because “it’s not a modern industry in our country”. It soon became clear that this was Bangladesh although it could be many places around the world.
At a talk to the European Outdoor Group at the major German sports show ISPO earlier this year I defended the Bangladesh tanners against a pretty direct attack from a top quality German tanner. I felt the Bangladesh tanners have suffered from a dysfunctional government and were making moves to relocate the tanneries to the new Savar site where the central effluent plant is now under construction. I made my point quite forcefully as I felt that we all had to help Bangladesh put things right, and keep their workers employed.
Despite a warning in January from Mohammad Abu Taher, Chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters' Association that orders were weak and that the industry might miss the US$1.21 billion target data published by FashionNetAsia shows that Bangladesh achieved export earnings for the sector of more than US$960 million for the nine-month period July 2013 to March 2014, compared to US$670 million in the same period a year earlier. This was made up of leather exports, which increased by 40% to US$381.1 million; leather footwear exports up by 31.7% to reach US$410.2 million and leather goods up 62.8%, reaching almost US$170 million.
Proper work wear
With exports of over US$1 billion tanneries can afford proper work wear. There is no excuse. What is more, what sort of buyers accept leather, shoes or leather goods without inspecting the tannery? You do not need a PhD in leather science or 20 years of experience to see whether the workers are wearing boots, gloves and aprons. I commented on this and back came the answer from the worker in Bangladesh: “tell them about it: they don’t seem to care about it”.
Bangladesh exports leather and leather products mainly to Italy, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the US, Canada and Spain. Japan, India and Australia are also mentioned. These buyers should know better; again there is no excuse.
Bangladesh may have a dysfunctional government and structural reasons for taking so long to relocate the tanneries and provide proper waste management, What it does not have is any excuse for not managing what it does have properly while it waits the last few months before moving. There are good tanneries in Bangladesh being damaged by this irresponsibility and buyers are being even more irresponsible. Not every tanner can hit Gold standard at the LWG, but every tannery needs to meet what we call Minimum Acceptable Standards while they embark on a course of improvement. This does not even come close.
All of this does huge damage to our “Brand Leather” by providing photographic material (and health statistics) to reinforce all the stereotypes that anti-leather industry groups use against us. We need to find these buyers and change their approach while the good Bangladesh tanners need to strong-arm their colleagues into proper behaviour. The leather industry must eliminate the opportunity for pictures like this.
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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