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Before travelling to APLF, I tried to arrange meetings in Hong Kong with senior representatives from Bangladesh. They never took place. This may have been my fault; with a hectic fair meaning you are not always in the right place when people come looking for you.
Yet, I have to say there is clearly a reluctance to put the facts on the table about what is happening with the move to Savar from Hazaribagh, and it seems more likely that the meetings failed because they did not want to attend. This is very curious as by now we should be able to have a clear timetable published, and one which is clear enough to allow international buyers to start planning their visit. With no date in sight, Bangladesh can only anticipate a further loss of customers as the dismay at the continued unexplained delays takes its toll.
Instead, we have reports from colleagues who have visited, tried to photograph and assess what is happening. We know the new treatment plant in Savar is not yet complete, and hear of 2017 as the most likely date although good authority suggests a partial opening might allow some processing of wet-blue starting in the next three months. Over 150 plants have to move; we know of three bigger ones which have started and a number of smaller ones.
Leather and leather products from Bangladesh have a good reputation and the country has many loyal leather friends around the world. Yet, they have been waiting for this change since 2003 and have long started to lose patience. Furthermore, the expectations of customers have increased and the improvements have to go far beyond end of pipe treatment and decent drainage. Meanwhile, Bangladesh leather is steadily destroying its own image and its potential for future growth.
When the move is complete we need to be sure that working conditions for employees are acceptable, that proper work wear and chemical handling equipment will be provided, and there will be no chance of finding child workers in the new tanneries. This almost certainly means that a full monitoring system will need to be put in place using a properly accredited company. Just telling the world that things are all correct will not be enough; it will have to be proven and regularly checked.
What we are seeing in Hazaribagh has greatly damaged the "brand" leather. It is really unforgivable. For Bangladesh to see its leather industry start to recover its reputation, some proactive transparency is needed. It needs to be properly and openly explained with a full, clear timetable, and honest policing.
5th April 2016
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