Hell for leather
1st June, 2008
Must-have handbags? shoes to die for? From cheap trinkets to luxury car interiors, Jim Wickens discovers the startling facts behind what we buy into when we buy leather goods.
Driving into the secretive alleyways of Hazaribagh, the first thing to hit you is the stench. A putrid cocktail of rotting flesh intermingled with nose-numbingly sharp tanning chemicals hangs in the air.
Tens of thousands of people toil here every day, living, breathing and dying amid a deadly mix of hundreds of chemicals pumped out by the leather tanneries that operate here.
It is a world made of leather. Barefoot children collect strips of it; chickens nest in it; babies play in it – even the cooking fuel here is made from it: toxic, dried blue strips of aldehyde- and chrome-treated leather that burns ferociously in every household stove.
Home to more than 100 tanneries, the Hazaribagh area of Dhaka produces much of Bangladesh’s leather, most of which is destined for export abroad. Each year $240 million worth of skins are exported from Bangladesh, most of which are sent to the fashion houses of Europe, Japan and China, for working into shoes, handbags and other accessories sold on high streets the world over.
Public prosperity versus public health
Leather tanning in Bangladesh and across Southern Asia, is a rapidly growing industry.
Spurred by retailer...
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