HELL FOR LEATHER: BANGLADESH’S TOXIC TANNERIES RAVAGE LIVES AND ENVIRONMENT
Jason Motlagh / Dhaka
Time, September 3, 2013
Inside the factory, shirtless workers stretch freshly dyed sheets of goat leather across industrial drying racks. Sleek and durable, the leather is in great demand at fashion houses from Italy to Hong Kong, feeding a global appetite for Bangladesh-made clothing that has boosted the country’s export earnings more than 20% in the past year. But outside, under the glaring sun, it’s clear who’s paying the price. Toxic runoff, the color of crude oil, is discharged into open gutters that course their way through jam-packed streets and makeshift housing, en route to city waterways. Seated by one of the gutters on his tea break is a gaunt Saddam Hossein — he is 23, but looking 10 years older and his hands are scarred from processing chemicals. “It’s hard labor,” he says. “But what else can I do?”
Bangladesh has become synonymous with cheap, ready-made garments and — in the wake of April’s Rana Plaza disaster — the appalling cost of fast fashion. Less notorious but no less grim is its booming leather industry, where workers and environment are degraded to sustain a billion-dollar business. Nearly all the country’s 206 tanneries are concentrated in one area — Hazaribagh, a cramped, filthy neighborhood in southwestern Dhaka, the sprawling capital.
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