Bangladesh leather industry: Steady steps towards compliance

Even a few years ago, the major issue in Bangladesh leather industry was the noncompliance standards when the industry was operational in Hazaribagh.

Untreated waste and chemicals from the tanneries and leather processing factories reduced Dhaka’s lifeline – the Buriganga River – to the brink of death, drawing criticisms from the environmentalists, locals and international quarters over a long period of time.

It is all but history now.

Bangladesh’s first baby steps towards enforcing compliance in the leather industry was to take the years-old factories away from Zigatola’s Hazaribagh and relocate them to a planned industrial zone at the outskirts of Dhaka – Savar Leather Industrial Park.

It was not an easy task to undertake. It was a hard choice to make for the leather factories to relocate because of the supply chain that had grown up due to years of business. More than 140,000 lives were tied to the leather industry that had to be considered.

But eventually, it was achieved nonetheless – through a long and thorny path of legal battles, coercion, negotiation, pressures, restrictions and other tough measures. It was all done in consideration of ensuring compliance in Bangladesh\’s leather industry.

The initial impact this relocation had on the leather industry was very apparent in the export figures. In fiscal 2017-18, exports from the leather sector – the second biggest export earner after the apparel industry – suffered a 12 per cent drop. Export earnings from processed leather dropped by 21 per cent.

Due to post-relocation complexities, only 110 tanneries – half of the existing – could become operational during 2017-18. It might take few more years for the Savar Leather Industrial Park to run at its maximum capacity.

The promise it holds is impeccable. Bangladesh knows it and recognizes it. After declaring leather product of the year 2017, Bangladesh is now chalking up plans to boost exports to promising destinations like the European Union and venture into new markets.


Bangladesh’s manufacturers and the government have understood the implications of noncompliance in the leather industry – after failing to secure buyers in the compliance issue, what was one of the main reasons for the dip in exports.

Determined not to lead Dhaleshwari River to suffer the same fate as Buriganga, Bangladesh government has built a central effluent treatment plant (CETP) for proper treatment of toxic waste spewed out by tanneries.

The CETP at Savar Leather Industrial Park has four pre-equalisation tanks which is scheduled to run 24/7 and reduce the impact on the environment. Leather manufacturers are optimistic about applying for compliance certification once the CETP is fully functional.

Though drawing significant criticism the Government of Bangladesh had promised that CETP will be fully operational very soon. We need the maximum commitment to delivery and sincere collaboration of the Bangladesh government and Chinese contractors to achieve this.

Also, there is a standing concern of global buyers over the labour and human rights situation in Bangladesh’s leather industry and the practices. But the good news is, their point of concern, Hazaribagh, exists no more and things will gradually improve in Savar because the issue of compliance has taken priority.


The issue of compliance and ethical sourcing was the center of attention throughout 2018 and it is the definitive factor of the future. Therefore, it is widely accepted now that sustainability and compliance are the core factors of business today.

Ensuring compliance and sustainability is an issue of joint cooperation for all the stakeholders in Bangladesh’s leather industry that includes the government, leather manufacturers, exporters, and buyers.

Sustainability in the leather supply chain will not grow without the buyers. The buyers must trust and keep sourcing from Bangladesh to help in its transformation towards sustainability and compliance in the leather industry. There is an open invitation to the leather and leather goods buyers all around the world to lend a helping hand to Bangladesh. Without you, the survival of Bangladesh’s leather industry is in question, let alone the struggle for compliance and sustainability.

A partnership of the global buyers and the local industry stakeholders is vital now.


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