Every worker is entitled to a safe workplace

Redwood Comment
Published:  10 October, 2018
Dr Mike Redwood

If you have a moment you should check out https://oiraproject.eu/en/oira-tools and search for leather and tannery. OiRA stands for Online Interactive Risk Assessment and is a tool to guide the tanner through worker risks in the tannery. Luc Triangle, the head of the IndustriALL trade union organisation that partnered with Cotance (Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community) on this EU funded project over the past five years, concluded the final conference on completion simply summing up by saying that “every worker is entitled to go to a safe workplace every day”.

If you register, only an email is required before using the tool, your entries are saved, but remain private to you. Some of the protocols can be printed out if you need to go off and gather information during the process. There is no charge, and the OiRA tool does not require you to be in the EU. We were told that some large companies are planning to roll it out to all their suppliers, globally. Daimler is one.

This is not an audit, it is a guide. It will work well alongside the already operating “Tannery of the Future” questionnaire. OiRA is very much about risks to people, asking for a focus where the risks are most severe, whereas Tannery of the Future is more about wider Corporate Social Responsibility with an emphasis on the legal and ethical aspects.

Due diligence

These are vital areas. There was a bit of an argument about whether “leather” is a brand or an industry. In fact, it is both, but in respect of these issues it behaves like a brand, where all the good built up over years can be destroyed by one example of misbehaviour. The recent survey carried out about due diligence for the final report indicates that the European leather industry generally has a good image, but even the simplest online look for the leather industry immediately demonstrates that there is a lot of misbehaviour.

Discussion at the event indicated that the Leather Industry supply networks are exceptionally complex and fragmented, so identifying issues is sometimes hard. Luc Triangle, for whom I have the greatest respect, indicated that this structure may result from the need for small specialist processes, but more commonly results from chasing the lowest cost at each stage. The risk here is therefore high; how often have we seen that cutting costs means not supplying workwear or investing in any chemical handling safety kit? We have often viewed these as environmental lapses but, in reality, we are dealing with the safety and health of workers.

Too often we hear of poor maintenance leading to deaths, of accidents with acids and sulphides producing deadly hydrogen sulphide gas, or of skin rashes consequent upon lack of gloves or other personal protection equipment. Despite all the modern safety devices on our machinery we still lose too many fingers and trap too many hands.

The fragmented supply chain is frequently met by asking those at the top of the chain, brands and retailers to apply downward pressure on all of their suppliers. I would prefer to see all our industry bodies putting pressure on every tannery, in every region and country, to make use of the OiRA tool. Proper due diligence well recorded with data passed transparently and honestly to others in the network will create the peer pressure to force a cultural change where needed.

Problem hotspots

While the hotspots for problematic leather production are well publicised, do not forget that even in the best managed countries light touch legislation and poor enforcement is already showing up in the textile industry via modern slavery and other dreadful breaches of the law. It is hard to imagine that better due diligence will not uncover wider problems to solve than we expected.

Any research into the PU coated material that used to be made around Wenzhou in China and called “pleather” in the U.S. will show that, after a spate of issues, factories would only employ women past childbirth years and all employees swapped higher salaries for shorter lives resultant from working with DMF. Properly managed, our leather chemicals today are safe, as is the tannery work environment. Let’s use the OiRA tool globally as part of getting the highest standards spread far and wide.

Dr Mike Redwood

October 9, 2018.

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

Publication and Copyright of "Redwood Comment" remains with the publishers of International Leather Maker. The articles cannot be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the publisher.