Some 58 global investors have expressed their concern over the labour and human rights and environmental practices in Bangladesh leather sector mainly in tanneries.
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the coalition of the institutional investors, on Monday sent letters to the government expressing their concerns over the leather sector.
Investors claimed that workers in tanneries in Hazaribagh and Savar were working in hazardous environments with little protective gear and many of them were underage.
The ICCR has sent letters to industries minister Amir Hossain Amu, state minister for Labour Mujibul Haque, commerce secretary Shubhashish Bose, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation chairman Mustak Hassan Md Iftekhar and director general of the Department of Environment Sultan Ahmed highlighting concerns around labour rights and environmental practices in tanneries.
‘Investors are concerned about the fact that workers engaged in the leather industry are often underage, despite the fact that Bangladesh prohibits work by anyone under 18 at a tannery. We urge the government of Bangladesh to inspect tanneries for child labour and to provide beneficial alternatives for child workers identified,’ the letter read.
State minister for labour Md Mujibul Haque, however, differed with the claim that child labour in the tanneries continues saying that they (investors) unaware of the real picture of the sector.
‘Our inspectors inspect tanneries on regular basis and there was no case of child labour in the sector. Some underage people may work in tanneries during pick season for daily basis and they are not permanent workers of the sector,’ he told New Age on Sunday.
Citing the death of two workers from hydrogen sulphide inhalation at the Savar tannery estate in May 2018, the investors said that the government needs to inspect tanneries to enforce occupational health and safety laws as workers are often soaked in chemicals and frequently breathe in hazardous fumes.
‘Workers are exposed to heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead and arsenic, as well as biocides, acids, bases and dyes, and usually have little protective gear to safeguard themselves from exposure to these hazardous chemicals,’ investors said in their letter.
The ICCR said that 110 of the 155 factories had already relocated to Savar from Hazaribagh but primary component of the project, the Central Effluent Treatment Plant was yet to be fully functional and there was no effective system yet in existence to remove salt from effluent.
Due to the absence of fully functional waste management infrastructure, the tanneries are now polluting the Dhaleshwari River and the ongoing pollution in Savar is creating anxiety and unrest among the village population nearby.
Investors urged the government to fulfil the main aim of the relocation project which was to prevent environment pollution.
Investors said that the government should take initiative to fulfil its obligations under the UN Guiding Principles to protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms of the sector workers.
The ICCR urged the government to conduct and publish a formal assessment of environmental degradation in Hazaribagh and to create an action plan for cleanup of the Buriganga River as factories that were located in the area dumped around 21,600 cubic meters of untreated waste into the river on a daily basis causing the river to be full of toxic chemicals.
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