Tanners, Labour Leaders Trash Report on Bangladesh Leather Sector

Tanners and trade union leaders have expressed concern over 'motivated and baseless' campaign against Bangladesh's emerging leather industry by a section of international media.
They felt that such unsubstantiated campaign would cause great damage to the image of the country's $1.0 billion export sector. The industry insiders, referring to a recent international wire service report on the Bangladesh leather industry, said the 'baseless' report has been circulated at a time when major players in the sector have already relocated their units to a well-planned and state-of-the-art industrial estate in the suburb of capital Dhaka from the polluted Hazaribagh area.
Small ones are taking time to shift the production facilities due to their limited capacity. But the small tanneries have also started the process, they added, contesting the content of the report in question.
The news agency recently released the report on the basis of its interaction with a US-based non-profit organisation.
While talking to the FE, Bangladesh's leather industry people termed the report 'baseless and motivated' and said the report has been prepared to tarnish the image of the country's flourishing leather and footwear industry.
The report has not been prepared taking into consideration some major changes that have already been brought about by the government as well as the industry stakeholders to make the sector up to the mark, industry insiders and labour leaders said.
"Major factories have already been relocated to Savar tannery estate, others will shift in next few months. So, Hazaribagh has already lost its relevance," Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA) president Md. Shaheen Ahmed told the FE Monday. "Moreover, there is not a single child worker in Hazaribagh now", he said emphatically.
He further said many of the country's footwear and leather factories are well-compliant as they are running business in accordance with the country's relevant laws, rules and regulations. "It's a government announced thrust sector having huge potentials," he added.
The BTA president said the sector has been growing at a decent pace in the recent years. The ill-motivated report will hit the growth. The export earnings of leather and leather goods crossed US$ 1.0 billion for the third consecutive year in fiscal 2015-16, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
In 2015-16, Bangladesh exported leather and leather goods worth US$ 1.16 billion while it was US$ 1.13 billion in 2014-15 and US$ 1.12 billion in 2013-14. The sector makes second highest contribution to national exports, following readymade garments.
"I do not think Hazaribagh tanneries employ any child labour. I have never found a child labour in the factories there," secretary general of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) Dr Wajedul Islam Khan said.
He, however, admitted that the Hazaribagh area and the Buriganga River became polluted due to effluent produced by the tannery factories.
"The government and environmentalists have long been pursuing the relocation of tanneries. Now the process is almost complete … larger factories have already relocated, and others are doing so," Mr Khan said.
Echoing Mr Khan's opinion, general secretary of the Tannery Workers' Union Abdul Maleque said there was no child labour in Hazaribagh. He said some of the factories are well-organised and up to the mark. They can be compared with the best factories even in the developed countries.
In 2014, famous Forbes magazine had published an exclusive report on Apex -- one of the country's leading footwear manufacturers. It narrated the Apex factory like this: "The complex includes, among much else, an effluent treatment plant, a purification plant for drinking water, a medical clinic and a day nursery. Workers, I'm told, get an average monthly wage of $100, which is higher than the $75 mean in the garments sector. In addition, they are covered for medical and life insurance, and get bonuses twice a year plus a share of profits."
Contacted, Abdul Qayum, a former project director of Savar tannery estate, said some 70 tanneries have already relocated to Savar Tannery Estate. "The relocated factories include the larger ones having substantial export earnings," he said, adding that the smaller ones will shift their units within next month.

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