Leather sector unruffled by malicious propaganda

A sinister campaign is on, apparently well orchestrated, to demean the country's thriving leather sector that despite many odds has emerged to successfully compete with formidable global rivals. A remarkable achievement by all means, this also demonstrates the serious intent of the local entrepreneurs to lift the industry to the height it deserves, given the facilities available in the country and market access opportunities abroad. But international trading, unfortunately, is not just about selling quality goods at competitive prices in that it has to face malicious propaganda, baseless blemishes and lies.

This has lately been the case with Bangladesh leather industry as evident from an international news agency report that got circulated around the world recently, with no other but the ulterior motive of dampening Bangladesh's enthusiasm in leather business as well as put off the buyers -- internationally reputed ones -- from procuring from Bangladesh. The sickening part of the report is its attempt to stain the reputation of two of its outstanding leather factories having state-of-the-art facilities, sophisticated manufacturing processes and a workplace environment hardly available in the developing world. The issues raised in the report are too rashly drawn without any in-depth knowledge about how Bangladesh is able to make its dent in the international market for leather goods, especially that of footwear. It is no mean achievement for Bangladesh to be heading toward $1.0 billion export target for footwear alone. For around a decade, Bangladeshi footwear exporters have indeed done wonders to achieve a steady annual growth of nearly 20 per cent. Certainly, this growth should be attributed to, among other factors, competitive pricing, quality assurance, on-time shipment, etc. Production of higher value added products has helped local manufacturers in targeting the up-end segments of the market, earning more in unit prices. Besides, newer markets are also believed to have played an important role.

The main focus of the mischievous report is on the hazardous and polluting workplace environment, particularly in the tanneries at Hazaribagh, which, no wonder, is regarded by the local media and even the local leather manufacturers as an environmental disaster. This is something no one is going to debate on. But the important thing is that relocation of the tanneries at the Savar leather estate with ETP (effluent treatment plant) has already started. The government has also taken a tough stand to shut down the Hazaribagh tannery hub cutting off all utility services. This is a clear demonstration of its strong intent to make the country's leather sector free from all kinds of conceivable evils. Besides, the wire service report in question chose not to mention some positive comments made by a number of international buyers about the Bangladesh leather industry.

Had the report touched on this, one could somehow reconcile with the idea that it was not orchestrated. But it did not say anything about what the plans are on the part of the government as well as the exporters. It may not be difficult to discern even for a casual reader that the expanding markets in the USA and the European Union (EU) - that too in the upper segment of leather products - have now turned things more challenging for some of Bangladesh's competitors. It must not be forgotten that Bangladesh leather industry has travelled a long and arduous journey. Now that it is set to overcome the few last hurdles, malicious reporting can not snuff it off.

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