Life of Tannery Workers in Bangladesh

 

From Europe to America or in Asia. In any grandee shopping mall of the world, the sights of anyone cannot be avoided by the eye glitzy precious ornaments. But if you look back again with little care, one thing won’t be out of your sight, and that is leather goods. Once it was necessity, now it’ not a mere necessity rather a luxury goods.

In the world economy, leather and leather good is a very robust sector. Bangladesh is not away from it. Leather processed goods of Bangladesh are now displaying with its pride in luxury shops of Asia, Europe and America. Bangladesh is earning 116 crore of US dollar by exporting leather & leather goods to more than 53 countries. Which is more than 3% of total export? This is also the third largest foreign earning sector for Bangladesh

Buyers of the superior leather goods are generally very selective and rich. It feels nauseous to imagine the disjointing process of leather from flesh and blood. But it can’t refrain us from buying those luxury and fashionable goods.

Though the users of these products are wealthy, the artists or craftsman of leather whatever we call them are not like the ultimate users at all. Utmost part of their life stories are beyond our acquaintance.

Abdul Jalil is as such of them…. He has spent half of his life in this Tannery.

Now he is near about eighty.  In his youth, he put his life into stake in the liberation war of 1971 enthusiast by the evocation of Bangabandhu.

Then in 1974, he came across to the capital city Dhaka for seeking for living. Then he started working in Hazaribagh Tannery. It is now 40 years he left behind. In this long span of his life time, many factories’ wheels have been running through by his labor, but wheel of his fortune yet to run. Now in the sun set of his life, he has to work of leather aeration to fill his stomach for once a day. It may fill his stomach only for two times but it keeps him starving most of the day.

This story is not only of Abdul Jalil himself. This story is of thousands of Abdul Jalil’s stories of howling in Hazaribagh.

 

Plot of this story, today’s ‘Hazaribagh’ was first established in 1947. Though first tannery was formed by a leather trader named Ranoda Prasad Saha in 1940. Before separation at 1947, raw leather was used to export to Calcutta for processing. Then the business was controlled and ruled by non-Bengalis. But for the robust earning of foreign exchange, in Pro-Pakistan period more local businessmen started to be involved. Then it was started processing locally. Gradually more little and large scale tanneries started growing. There were more or less 30 tanneries in this Hazaribagh.

After the independence at 1971, this tannery industry came to special attention of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Then it had been seen an unprecedented success in leather and leather goods export.

Hazaribagh is no consist of 60 acres of land where more or less 206 little and large scale tanneries are producing more than 300 billion sf. of leather. Though it’s taking the place as one of the most exporting sectors day by day, but it doesn’t rotate the wheel of the worker’s fate. Though they are crushed beneath hard toil, risky profession and low income, but they are deprived from their all basic benefits.

 

 

Though Hazaribagh Tannery is producing world class leather and leather goods, factories and its premises give a different contradictory picture. An unhygienic and stinky periphery is all around here.

If we take a look at the dumping and drainage system, it may seem to be a cannel. But there is stinky and unhygienic tannery wastage instead of fresh water. which is mainly very harmful toxic chemical substance. It is really impossible for a sound person to stay here more than 5 mins.

For that, Hazaribagh tannery is at 5th of the most polluted place on earth according to Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute. More than 1,60,000 people are in health hazard.

Amount of chemical liquid wastage thrown in Buriganga river everyday.

From Hazaribagh Tannery it’s 10-15 thousand cubic meters

From Tejgaon Industrial area it’s 3.5 thousand cubic meters

From Dhaka and other Industrial area it’s 2.7 thousand cubic meters

Within this wastage, there are callusing fur, sodium sulfate, chromium oxide, oil, zinc, nickel, lead and different acids. For this reason, biodiversity and plants of water bed has been perished.
Inside the factories, it is more terrible. From where billion dollars is earned, even least health security is absent there. Workers have to work with hazardous machineries without any safety measures. Though chemical and heat processing is very common in these factories, it’s hard to notice any heat resistant gloves or chemical resistant musk. In each and every moment, these workers are doing their jobs at risk. This is almost impossible for a general person to work in tannery It requires skill labor.

Earning for this risky job doesn’t make the workers smile. Because where price of 1 kg. rice is  tk.40 to 50. In that situation, a worker has to face a tough equation of 4 to 6 thousand taka earning and a family of 4 or 5 members. Though the minimum wage has been determined, but the fair wage policy is always unheeded still now.

There is much discrimination between the wage of male and female workers. Though a skilled male worker gets 6 to 8 thousand taka per month, a female worker is always confined to 6 thousand. Most of them are forced to work for 12 hours. With this low salary, they don’t have even any Govt. holidays or even maternity leave. In some cases, they are assaulted too.

Child labor is a curse for a nation. In the age, a child is supposed to attend school, if it starts laboring, it will be adverse for the country as well as for that child itself.

In case of Tannery it is beyond explanation. Though we speak on anti-child labor, It is hardly seen in real scenario. There are very few factories which have no child labor.

From a research paper, within the 30 thousand workers

85% of them are male, 15% of them are female, 3.5% are children

22% of the workers are under 18 yrs old. 7% of the workers are under 14 yrs.

 

It’s like that no drop of humanity in this miserable life. It is hard to get a worker with no physical difficulties. Toxic chemicals for human body like acid, chromium, sulfuric acid, sodium sulfide, formaldehyde azocolorants, and pentachlorophenol and so on are used here.

It might be not traceable the gas comes out from betting operation, skin disease and ulcers caused by these chemical reactions is such like a mere thing to the workers. But this is the prime cause which can direct them to life taking cancer. But there is no medical support or even primary medical facility for them.

Common place for a leather bag, belt or shoes is always in a sparkling show case of a luxurious shopping mall. But in the contrary, the maker of this product who made this by his life taking labor is living not in that luxury.

This is not exactly a house, they are living with family and children under a filthy and unhygienic shed. This is a part of the city having no civil amenities. Even with no proper residential environment. There is only life taking leather wastages.

 

For every human being it’s certain to face the ultimate reality after his long exertion life, the old age. Man works in youth to secure his old age. So organizations have their policy like gratuity and provident fund. But these life taking hard working people don’t have anything for their old age.

80% of them have no job security, even no service contract paper. It is absurd to have holiday even. So, at the last days of life, leather workers have only distraction and frustration to live the life.

 

To develop the working atmosphere for this troubled Tannery workers, Bangladesh Labor Foundation (BLF) started working from the year 2013 in association of Tannery Worker’s Union. To be on side of general workers, they have ensured proper environment for negotiating with the owners regarding worker’s rights.

To ensure the safe working atmosphere and develop the worker’s capability and efficiency, BLF arranges thematic training on labor right, Labor Act, fair working atmosphere, job-related health and security, secure use of chemical and preservation etc. Beside these, BLF works for worker’s legal support and establishment of an intra-communication hub between workers and organizations.

Moreover, in the context of shifting to Savar Tannery Industry from Hazaribagh tannery to solve the crisis of the workers BLF and Worker’s Union are organizing bilateral dialogues and recommend for worker’s fair wage and other opportunities. BLF and Tannery Worker’s Union have taken long term action plan for ensuring workers right in Tannery both in Hazaribagh and Savar New Tannery Estate

This Hazaribagh Tannery has been marked as 5th polluted place of the earth. When the whole world is raising the issue to eliminate pollution, then it is deliberate to be questioning about the geographical position of Hazaribagh tannery.

 

In 2003, for developing the city and minimize the pollution Govt. took the decision to shift Hazaribagh Tannery to Savar. Though workers favored it, but they got panic of something undefined. With their long waited expectations and claims, just like an abscess has added a new crisis. Now it’s coming forward some question and some fears one by one.

Security of their job is more vulnerable now. From the part of the owners, they appreciate the shifting to Savar. But the problems for the workers always have been neglected. Those demands are still now neglected and the unimplemented labor law, in this crisis, will the owners come forward to fulfill the human rights of these tannery workers?

Everybody would like to take advantage of these workers’, but ultimately nobody wants to take the responsibility of their miserable life. They are yet to be provided with transfer certificate. And it is yet to ensure their housing, canteen facility, medical facility or education for the children within their earning.

As a part of the process of shifting to Savar, tannery owners are getting 3 to 10 times of land than they have with other compensation, but the issue of worker’s compensation is still in smog covered. Though future of the 206 tanneries have the proper blueprint, but the 30 thousand tannery workers and their family and related of roughly 1.5 lac people are still out of planning.

For this foreign exchange earning leather and leather goods sector, Govt. NGOs and other institution are concern enough. But the worker’s right and security are yet to be a concerning issues.

The hands which have built this leather industry from the tiny to giant, for the sweating labor that our country is advancing more in economy, those workers are still in oppression and reproach.

If this injustice and oppression won’t be stopped, this industry might not be head up with its pride. If their tears of decades and life taking labor are not appreciated properly, this leather industry will not be able to be at its peak of success.

Crying of these workers is obviously a blunder for this industry as well as the development process of the country.

Before shifting the tannery to Savar it should ensure the workers’ job. To the march of today’s progressing Bangladesh, our only plea is to get fair wage for the workers with their lodging, hygienic working atmosphere, necessary medical facility and other amenities.

Hope to gain worker’s fair rights. Hope for the development for the country.

 

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