HRW deplores health hazards from toxic tanneries

Child labour as well as environmental and health hazards in tanneries will be the same even if the industry is relocated from Hazaribagh unless Bangladesh strictly enforces related laws, observes Human Rights Watch.

There is a rare chance today for accountability for the massive health problems caused by Bangladesh's toxic tanneries, the New York-based rights organisation said yesterday.

The High Court has summoned the secretary to the Ministry of Industries to explain failure to relocate around 150 leather tanneries out of Hazaribagh, a heavily populated residential neighbourhood of the capital, says in a media release issued by the HRW.

“Residents of Hazaribagh slums complain of illnesses such as fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhoea caused by extreme tannery pollution in the air, water and soil,” the international rights watchdog states.

The HRW says the HC is entirely justified in demanding the government to explain why the relocation has dragged on for so long.

Fourteen years after the court ruled that the government had to ensure the tanneries installed adequate means to treat their waste, the ministry has only delivered a string of broken promises: the Dhaka Tannery Estate, a relocation site 20km west of Dhaka, was initially supposed to be ready in December 2005, then December 2006, then June 2010, then June 2012 and then December 2013.

The ministry is almost sure to miss its current deadline of June 2015, the release reads.

Welcoming the HC move to summon the industries secretary, the HRW says, “The court should take the opportunity to ask the secretary some basic questions tomorrow about the lack of labour and environmental inspection. It should also summon officials from the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Labour and clearly direct them to enforce their laws in Hazaribagh.

“Both agencies continue to treat Hazaribagh as a regulation-free zone, although laws demand fines or closure for tanneries that are dumping untreated effluent into water sources, or that repeatedly violate Bangladesh labour laws. Moving the tanneries from Hazaribagh is long-overdue, but unless laws are finally enforced this step will do little to help affected communities or tannery workers.”


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