Bangladesh, a country in South Asia, where it gradually evolved into the second largest export sector for leather coming right after China. A total of 95% of leather produced in Bangladesh are being sold overseas (Bliss, 2017). The leather industry in Bangladesh is a source of employment, exports and economic growth. However, behind the striving leather industry in Bangladesh lies hidden dangers such as child labor, human trafficking and the exploitation of human rights.
Based on the statistics retrieved from Central Intelligence Agency (n.d), Bangladesh have a population size of 157 million as of 2017. With 157 million people living within 148,460 square kilometers, Bangladesh is a country being overpopulated based on population density. It is also considered as one of the poor economic country in South Asia.
Bangladesh faces the problem of poverty, even though huge progress reducing poverty with sustained economic growth have been implemented. Bangladesh still faces the challenge of about 22 million people living under the poverty line (The World Bank, 2018). “Poverty undoubtedly mirrors individuals and family’s socio-economic development, and reflects upon the total number of child laborers in the country” as stated in Holmstrom’s research (2015, pg. 39). With poverty, parents used their children as a way to earn extra income, thus, introducing child labor.
Child labor is the employment of a children where the children are being deprived of their childhood from an early age, affecting personal development and health, thus, being extremely harmful to the children’s mental and physical development (International Labour Organization, n.d.). In Bangladesh, there are children who are as young as eleven working in tanneries for 12 to 14 hours a day which is way more than the five hours working limit set by the Bangladeshi law (Pearshouse, 2012).
The children performed dangerous tasks handling with various chemicals with the lack of protective equipment and sufficient training such as wadding barefoot in tanks filled with tanning solutions or climbing into drums filled with diluted acid to retrieve the soaked tanning leather. Young boys would be tasked carrying the leather hides and water and operated stretching machine whereas smaller children are tasked with soaking pieces of leather in open vats filled. According to an interview conducted by Human Right Watch (2012), female workers were paid less compared to male workers. For the same task, the starting salary for a female worker is $49 a month whereas for a male worker is $61.
However, to save cost factories often resort to hiring children which only cost a mere 6 cents per hour (as cited in Reja, 2017). As horrendous working conditions starts to get unearthed, companies started publishing statement expressing support of human rights, sustainable manufacturing process and ethical sourcing on their webpages. Consumers in support of ethical right also questions the origin of the leather used in the product whether it was produced through child laborers working in tanneries with unhygienic conditions.
Datamyne, a searchable database of import-export trade, have shown shipping records of companies that have made imported goods from Bangladesh in November 2016 which includes companies such as Michael Kors, Timberland, Hugo Boss, Puma, C&J Clark America and Banana Republic. Most of the companied agreed to be discuss about its leather supply chain except Michael Kors who did not respond despite numerous email requests and repeated telephone. Timberland provided the most explicit response including picture ensuring their leather came from tanneries which boast good practices.
Puma responded with them being aware of the challenges related to the production of leather in Bangladesh, thus, their suppliers do not source leathers from Bangladesh. Clark replied with them sourcing 75% of their leather from approved leather tanneries, only 20% of their leather comes from tanneries considered for low risk for social abuse. Those tanneries are being monitored to ensure they make progress towards higher standard. (as cited in Price, 2017)
Laws and Regulations Trafficking Victim Protection Act
Bangladesh has also been identified as a Tier 2 watch list country under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This signifies that the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking are not fully met but significant amount of effort have been put in to do so by the government of Bangladesh. “In Bangladesh, trafficking can be defined as acts which involve kidnapping, capturing and recruitment of people across national borders with the intent to sell, exchange, or use them for any illegal purpose, such as prostitution, servitude in the guise of marriage, bonded labor, or sale of human organs by means of violence or threat of violence (as cited in Paul & Hasnath, 2000).”
The government of Bangladesh operated safe homes and drop-in centers but these support services were available for children and adult female victims but not designed for trafficking victims. The operation of safe houses continued for female Bangladeshi workers escaping their abusive employees. Other services provided includes consulates to provide welfare services which included interpretation service and legal service for the immigrant workers.
Recommendation for Bangladesh to improve its effort in eliminating trafficking are as shown. Eliminating recruitment fees charged by licensed labor recruiter to workers, instead, ensure all workers are being paid. Prosecution and convictions of offended in particular labor traffickers and labor recruiter should be strengthened.
Enhance training for people such as labor inspectors and immigration officials on method to identify tracking cases. Expand the availability of support services to victims both male and female. (U.S. Department of State, n.d.)
Labor Law Violation
According to United States Department of Labor (n.d.), Bangladesh has sanctioned most key conventions concerning child labor; however, loopholes exists within the legal framework, thus, unable to sufficiently protect children from child labor.
Retrieved from Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (2006), Chapter 3, section 34 of the Bangladesh Labor Law states the prohibition of employment of children and adolescent, yet tanning factories are still hiring young children. In the same chapter, section 39 the restriction of employment of adolescent in certain work; section 40, employment of adolescent on dangerous machines where no adolescent shall work at any machine unless he had been fully instructed as to the dangers in connection with the machinery and have received sufficient training at work at the machine.
Section 41, no adolescents should be required or allowed to work in any factory or mine, for more than five hours in any day and thirty hours in any week. As seen from The Bangladesh Labor Law, the law does not cover the types of hazardous work banned for children working in the leather production. The children are being exposed for a long duration of time in an unhealthy and unsafe environment.
Although the labor law specifies children older than 12 are permitted to conduct work that does not pose any risk to their health or interfere with their education, it does not specify the type of activity or the duration allowed per week that light work is permitted (United States Department of Labor (n.d.).
Human Rights Violation
Bangladesh is also guilty of violating several articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Following is the list of articles and the violation conducted. Article 23, everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work to protect against unemployment.
Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work (United Nations, n.d.). Tanneries in Bangladesh are often hot and congested with heavy machinery which produces loud noises and poor air ventilations for chemical fumes (Human Right Watch, 2012). Children in Bangladesh are required to work in hazardous environment within the tanning factories while handling corrosive chemicals without proper protective gears. Salary pay is bias between female and male with male receiving more pay compared to female for the same load of work.
Article 24, everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holiday and article 26, everyone has the right to education. (United Nations, n.d.). The children work between eleven to twelve hours a day which goes beyond the allowed working hour stated in Bangladesh Labor Law. This deprives the children from the right to attend school and gain education as they spent most of their days working in the tanning factory.
Thus, the children lack socialization affecting the child’s personal development. Article 25, everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control (United Nations, n.d.).
When the children or workers get sick while working in the tanning factories, they do not have the luxury to seek medical help. They are barely sustaining with the little wage they earn. Thus, they continue working even though they get contracted with respiratory problems or even skin diseases. According to an interview conducted by Human Right Watch (2012), some tannery managers deny workers legal rights such as compensation or paid sick leave when workers become ill or injured. The waste produces by the tanneries also post a risk to residence by or discarding the waste in a proper manner, contaminating the water source.
The government of Bangladesh failed to implement national laws which could protect the citizens of Bangladesh from abusers. Not being able to protect its citizens lead to serious health and economic concerns for Bangladesh.
Compared to the United States
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), establishes minimum salary, overtime pay and child labor standards affecting all workers, part time or full-time workers, working in federal states such as the United States (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.).
According to the FLSA, the minimum wage for a youth under 20 years old is $4.25 per hour. This portrays how under paid the child labor of Bangladesh are. In the section of child labor provisions of the FLSA, it states the decision of creating this section is to protect educational opportunities of minor and prohibit job employments under conditions disadvantageous to their health and welfare. It also limits the number of hours a child under 16 can work.
Bangladesh in comparison to the United States which is governed by FLSA is the total opposite of United States, allowing child labor to work in horrid conditions as described in this paper above in the section of child labor. Children are getting paid as little as 6 dents per hour working in conditions extremely disadvantageous to the child health and welfare. This in returns deprives the child’s opportunity to educate themselves further.
United States, should use its power to help out Bangladesh by funding appropriate people sending them to Bangladesh first to access how horrid the situation Bangladesh is facing. United States should make the situation child laborers are facing in the Bangladesh to be known to the consumers of their states and may possibly deter the consumers from purchasing associated products.
This would be being awareness to various communities and may highlight global brands which still source from Bangladesh’s tanning factories which utilize child laborers and violate human rights. The department of labor of United States should conduct random checks of co-operations which source leather from Bangladesh. However, United States should not use their power to conduct a sudden shutdown of all tanning factories which violates the laws in Bangladesh as it would lead to thousands of people instantly losing their job. It will also make Bangladesh suffer a blow to its currency making it poorer.
The governments of Bangladesh have much room to improve managing their child labor crisis, enforcing stricter rules and punishment when the rules are violated. A child should not be deprived of their education, working in tanneries, dying or handling leathers under dangerous circumstances for long hours. I watched the film Fashion victims: Textile toxins in a global industry. The film provided me with a graphical view on the conditions, when I conducted further analysis, I was able to see the degree of violation of human rights the country Bangladesh had done.
It made me think twice on purchasing items manufactured through the exploitation of human rights. Although purchasing the items ensure job opportunity for many, the workers in the tanneries are risking their life to earn an income. The tanneries owner should provide their workers with protective gears as a person health will deem the efficiency of a person conducting work.