Toxic Leather: Fires are not the only problem with the Bangladesh fashion industry
Hazaribagh is a suburb of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, where thousands of people work in sweatshops to transform 14 million animal skins into the leather used each year to make jackets, bags and other cheap leather goods than fill our closets.
Toxic leather is a French documentary film that immerses us in one of the most terrible places in the world, a global center of leather production in Bangladesh.
The tanneries in Hazaribagh release every day 15.000 cubic meters (19619yd³) of waste and toxic sludge into rivers and subsoil.
The industry generates more than 350 million Euros a year for the economy of Bangladesh. It employs thousands of people that work more than twelve hours a day for a monthly salary of about 40€ ($52) per month.
Earning half the salary as an adult, children also work for the leather industry. Children need to work to help their families get by and cannot afford to go to school. To no avail, unions have spent years fighting against child labor and fighting for improved working conditions and security.
Serious consequences for health and the environment
In the tanneries in Bangladesh toxic chemical that we banned over 20 years ago in other countries are still being used.
Workers are exposed daily to toxic substances that burn their skin, cause cancer and other serious health problem.
“We cover the skins with quicklime, rinse and dry them. We then apply chemicals and finally wash them. We repeat this process three times, “a worker describes his job.
He will quite possibly, be part of that 90% of employees who develop cancer, ulcers, heart disease and will not live beyond age 50.
Two tannery worker are pouring acid directly onto skins without using any type of protection.
Ammonium acid, chromates and mercury are just some of the highly flammable, explosive and corrosive substances men and women work with daily. They are given no training on how to use these chemicals.
The tanneries dumped every day 15,000 cubic meters of waste and toxic sludge
Toxic leather shows the environmental consequences of activity of the 280 tanneries around Hazaribagh. Each day 15,000 cubic meters of toxic sludge waste is released polluting rivers and groundwater.
It is even more shocking to see how this industry not only effects the local environment. Bangladesh seems so far away, but what happens there is actually poisoning us in Europe and U.S. That waste does end up polluting our food and enters our bodies.
There are also children in the tanneries. In the picture, they can be seen extending skins to dry after being treated with chemicals
The only way to change these statistics with horrifying consequences for people´s health and the environment would be to invest in installing environmentally friendly production methods and equipment for the future. That would shoot up production costs and reduce benefits.
Are we, in Europe and the USA, as the main consumers for this leather, willing to pay more for it?
A complicated shooting
The film took two years to be shot. In a first trip, the team was arrested and expelled from the country and all the film footage was destroyed. A year and a half later, and after several failed attempts, another team managed to enter through Pakistan and returning to Hazaribagh to show this global tragedy.
This film was shown in Spain on Documentos TV Sunday June 23, 2013 at 23:30 h on TVE La 2.
Here is a link to the Spanish version of the film:Bangladesh, cuero tóxico