So it is with the brand that we all depend upon, the brand “leather”. Across the world, more groups and individuals are getting involved with speaking positively about leather and, hopefully from LeatherNaturally! on through the national and international organisations, we will see more leather promotional activity. Some of those activities, like the excellent “leather is my job” Cotance campaign, are particularly useful as they afford an opportunity to answer the many negative comments that are being spread about leather which have no basis in fact.

Endless arguments about tanners using arsenic are typical “withdrawals” from the brand leather account which we have to counter through getting the truth in front of consumers time and again. Much more damaging in the long term are the complaints about careless chemical handling, lack of waste treatment, missing workwear and improper treatment of labour which are to be found around the world.

So I have to write how disappointed I am to see that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina started 2017 by announcing that Leather Goods would be her “Product of the Year” without a single comment that the move of the tanneries out of Dhaka remains largely incomplete.

More than any other place in the world the tanneries in Hazaribagh provide the images and stories that totally undermine all the good that has been done by the vast majority of tanners around the world. A glance through the Internet makes it clear that anti-leather groups argue that “most” leather is made in under-developed countries where regulations do not exist or are not enforced. The statement is a gross exaggeration but is hard to counter. There are still quite a few places where it is true, and Hazaribagh is by far the most prominent.

Currently, globalisation is being challenged around the world. One of the huge benefits of globalisation, and the leather industry’s significant role in it, has been pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. If, instead, it is putting children to work emptying chrome drums with no shoes on while draining untreated effluent into the local river, everyone loses. We were asked to be patient while government and tanners sorted the move to Savar, but to see that the government have once again given the tanners three more months to relocate their factories to the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate is deeply discouraging.

I think all the world likes the Bangladeshi people and would wish Bangladesh to succeed, but to do well Bangladesh must be scrupulous about doing it properly.  The leather industry can offer many good jobs in Bangladesh but cannot be allowed to carry on like this. The Prime Minister should have linked her support for leather with a demand that the move to Savar be completed within three months, and link waste management with exemplary working conditions.

Mike Redwood

10th January 2017

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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