Revealed: the shocking human and environmental cost of cheap leather

A major investigation by Ecostorm for the Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) has revealed the appalling and unreported human and environmental cost of the leather trade in Bangladesh, South Asia. The investigation, entitled “Hell For Leather”, is released this week as a short, hard-hitting, documentary film and as a special report in the June edition of The Ecologist magazine.

Filmed and researched in Bangladesh over a two week period, the film and report reveals how leather used in consumer goods, including shoes, handbags, trinkets and luxury car interiors – some of which find their way onto European high streets – is linked to serious health problems amongst tannery workers.

It also exposes how the toxic chemicals used in leather tanning lead to environmental degradation via the rampant discharge of untreated effluents from tanneries into water supplies and waterways. The investigation focuses on the impoverished communities living and working in Hazaribagh, Dhaka’s major leather producing area, and the detrimental effects these toxic chemicals are having on them.

Home to over 100 tanneries, the Hazaribagh area of Dhaka produces much of Bangladesh’s leather, most of which is destined for export abroad. $240 million worth of skins are exported annually from Bangladesh alone, most sent to the fashion houses of the EU, Japan and China, for working into shoes, handbags and other accessories sold on high streets the world over.

“Hazaribagh has been classed as one of the 30 most polluted places in the planet – a roll-call of toxicity shared by the likes of Chernobyl. The difference with Hazaribagh of course is that it is situated in the middle of the fastest growing city in the world. It is amazing that with so much concern for child labour, air miles and organic food, the chronic problems of leather production in places such as Bangladesh have gone without notice,”. Jim Wickens, producer of Hell For Leather and co-director of Ecostorm, said.