Between 2012 and 2014, the world’s manufacturers produced nearly 1.8 billion square meters of lightweight leather for the fashion industry. Much of this fine leather came from small tanneries in developing countries, where labor costs are lowest and environmental and workplace health regulations are often poorly enforced.
In Bangladesh, 200 tanneries were crammed together in Dhaka’s industrial quarter. Each year, an estimated 22,000 cubic liters of toxic, acid-based effluent have entered the river, which flows into the Bay of Bengal. This has killed all life in the Buriganga River and its waters threaten the health of anyone entering into it. Heavy metal pollution is also reported along the shores of eastern Bangladesh, more than 200 kilometers away. The Bangladeshi government moved Dhaka’s leather industry to a new site next to the Dhaleshwari River in 2017, promising this new site would be equipped with a proper water treatment plant. However, plans to open the plant were delayed and now residents fear the leather factories will contaminate the Dhaleshwari River as well.