New York: Workers in many leather tanneries near Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, become ill because of exposure to hazardous chemicals, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
These include children as young as 11, the rights body said in an exhaustive report. Many employees were injured in horrific workplace accidents, it said.
The tanneries, which export hundreds of millions of dollars in leather for luxury goods throughout the world, spew pollutants into surrounding communities.
The report documents an occupational health and safety crisis among tannery workers, both men and women, including skin diseases and respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to tanning chemicals, and limb amputations caused by accidents in dangerous tannery machinery.
Residents of Hazaribagh slums -- where the tanneries are located -- complain of illnesses such as fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhea, caused by the extreme tannery pollution of air, water and soil.
The government has not protected the right to health of the workers and residents, has consistently failed to enforce labour or environmental laws, and has ignored court orders to clean up these tanneries, it said.
"Hazaribagh`s tanneries flood the environment with harmful chemicals," said Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher in the health and human rights division of Human Rights Watch.
"While the government takes a hands-off approach, local residents fall sick and workers suffer daily from their exposure to harmful tannery chemicals."
Hazaribagh is home to an estimated 90 percent of the tanneries in Bangladesh. These tanneries employ up to 15,000 workers.
Said a senior official in Bangladesh`s Environment Department: "We are not doing anything for Hazaribagh."
In the decade since 2002, the value of leather exports in Bangladesh has grown by an average of $41 million per year.
From June 2011 to July 2012 Bangladesh exported around $663 million worth of leather and leather goods, including footwear.
The leather is exported to some 70 countries, but principally to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain and the US.