Changes afoot for 2015…hopefully!

The Redwood Blog
Published:  06 January, 2015
Mike Redwood

A few years ago I was deeply honoured to be invited to Austria to talk to a UNIDO strategy meeting. Although I was aware of the millennium development goals (MDGs) I was, probably naively, taken aback by the prominence they were given and the extended use of the unfamiliar MDG shorthand. This year, 2015, is the completion year for the original MDGs so an updated set are being worked out for the next 15 years.

One item that looks likely to be prominent in the new list is a simple one: job opportunities. Just looking back on the last 50 years those of us who watched the growth of the leather industry development in South Korea and Taiwan and then on to India, China and the rest of Asia know that one top job creating industry is tanning leather. It has always been a fascination how the numbers employed in processing a hide multiply so significantly as you look at the wet-blue, crusting and then the finishing sections in the tannery. Yet all this employment pales into insignificance when you consider the tens of thousands that are employed making footwear, garments, gloves, leather-goods from each square foot of leather.

As we look around the new emerging markets of the world so many of them offer large numbers of safe, stable, tax paying jobs for previously unemployed citizens through the manufacture of all manner of items using leather. Allied to this I am not a supporter of many of these countries selling land cheaply to overseas business for the large scale production of cash crops. I do not agree with the argument that this fast tracks the modernisation of agriculture. Better would sorting out land ownership for small farmers and recognising the importance of the traditional pastoral farmers moving livestock around the landscape.

As we enter 2015 another part of the equation looks like it might come right and heal some of the sores that scar our industry. Sialkot in Pakistan has just broken ground for a self funded central effluent system, the Bangladesh government has started to threaten those of the155 tanneries in Hazaribagh who are slowing progress in the transfer to Savar and India has started to get serious with polluting tanneries in Calcutta and Kanpur. Early in 2014 the Mexican water authorities SAPAL took action against Leon tanneries that were ignoring the legal limits for sulphur and chromium in their discharges,

These are important issues for both jobs and the brand ‘Leather’. All these locations employ large numbers of people in the leather industry and many of the tanneries involved there are excellent. But too many chose to ignore the basic rules of society in the way they discharge untreated effluent and treat their workers. In Leon it was astonishing that initial reports stated that in 23 out of 88 tanneries "owners and workers would not allow SAPAL to take any samples".

Tanning leather properly is an industry for everyone involved in to be proud of and we want as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits that can from employment in its manufacture and consumer satisfaction from its use. There is no room for trying to reduce costs by not treating waste, handling chemicals properly or managing workers (of the correct age) fairly. All that does is cause immediate harm locally and long-term damage to one of the planets most valuable raw materials.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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