Bangladesh: Upcoming Report Details Impact of Climate Crisis, Pollution on Tannery Workers

Bangladesh: Upcoming Report Details Impact of Climate Crisis, Pollution on Tannery Workers

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Bangladesh: Upcoming Report Details Impact of Climate Crisis, Pollution on Tannery Workers


A survey of tannery workers living in Hemayetpur, Bangladesh, is illustrating how the impact of industrial pollution, harsh working conditions and low wages is leaving workers, their families and their communities increasingly vulnerable to ever-increasing climate-related shocks in the country.

“When combined with the health consequences of environmental degradation and the climate crisis, the compounding impacts on workers, their families and their communities are devastating,” says Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center climate and labor justice global lead.

More than 200 tannery workers were surveyed for a study conducted with Solidarity Center support by Jagannath University Associate Professor Mostafiz Ahmed. Early findings include:

  • More than half of those surveyed say their employment prospects have been negatively affected by environmental impacts. Of this number, nearly 70 percent report consequences from environmentally related illnesses, including wage cuts.
  • More than 80 percent say their wages are too low to meet their family’s needs and more than 90 percent are working without a contract. Precarious employment exacerbates vulnerabilities to ongoing climate shocks, reducing resilience for entire communities.
  • The majority (75 percent) of participants have suffered work-related broken bones, and a similar number experience respiratory problems—including asthma.  

Leather production is one of Bangladesh’s oldest industries, and the country’s leather exports satisfy one-tenth of world demand. For decades, tanneries in the main industrial site in Dhaka dumped 22,000 cubic meters of toxic waste daily into the Buriganga River, wiping out aquatic life and polluting ground water needed for drinking.

Amid increasing international pressure about toxic tannery-related environmental and working conditions, the government in 2017 ordered approximately 25,000 tannery workers and their families to move from Hazaribagh, a Dhaka neighborhood and one of the most polluted places on Earth, to the newly built Tannery Industrial Estate in Hemayetpur. Although the new site provides a central effluent treatment plant, all factory sludge and effluents are still not being treated and environmental threats remain.

The full report will be published next month.

“Engaging with workers and their unions through collective bargaining and policy development is essential to improving working conditions and developing climate and environmental solutions, both of which are necessary to build resilience for workers and their communities,” says Mistry.

In the Bangladesh tannery sector, the Solidarity Center partners with the Tannery Workers Union (TWU), which for almost 60 years has worked to protect the rights and interests of the workers in the sector.  


Kill a River, Kill Our Livelihoods: A Brazilian Community’s Fight for Survival

Kill a River, Kill Our Livelihoods: A Brazilian Community’s Fight for Survival

A community that makes its livelihood from the Amazon is standing up to the Brazilian government that, without consulting the people most affected, is on the verge of undertaking a blasting and dredging project along a river waterway that would destroy their livelihoods.

On this episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast, Carmen Foro, a rural activist and secretary-general of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT), describes how the community where she was born is demanding the government honor international treaties respecting Indigenous and Tribal People’s right to safeguard and manage the natural resources on their lands.

(Listen in English or Portuguese.)

“We know that if this hydro way is constructed, then it will bring with it agribusiness interests, monoculture, land conflicts, pollution, a lack of respect for the populations who live there,” Foro says.

“Unchecked greed—by governments and corporations—has fueled environmental destruction and climate change, worsened inequality and eroded worker rights,” says podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.

Foro describes how a diverse coalition that includes representatives from the Quilombolo community, fishers, family farmers, youth, women and a range of grassroots groups formed the Caravan in Defense of the Tocantins River to raise awareness about the negative impacts of the waterway construction.

“We want public policies to preserve the river. And we believe this is the democratic way to build and preserve our rights. This is the way to ensure our future and our life.”

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