Cured? Bangladesh courts shutter tanneries

Dhaka, Bangladesh tannery worker inspecting leather production

Sweatshops and factory fires have not been the only object of criticism in regard to the Bangladesh garment and accessories industry. Water has also been a substantial focal point of concern -- in particular, the water being polluted by upwards of 200 tanneries in Dhaka, which for decades has been a leading hub for regional and international leather production.

Judges in Banglandesh appear have taken the past few years of exposés to heart, as first the High Court and now the Appellate Division have ruled that 154 Dhaka tanneries must close. On the surface it's an obvious call -- after all, how can anyone object to curbing water pollution and workers' exposure to dangerous chemicals?

And yet objections there have been, likewise grounded in an ethical concern: the effect of the closure on tannery workers' livelihoods.

On Mar 6, the High Court ordered immediate closure of tanneries in the city and instructed authorities to snap power, water and gas connections for them.

The court's verdict came following a petition by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA).

Bangladesh Finished Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters' Association (BFLGFA) Chairman Mahiuddin Ahmed Mahin moved the Appellate Division to stay the order.

BFLGFA counsel said during Sunday's hearing: "My clients are yet to receive the compensation to relocate. It's a matter of a lot of people's livelihoods. At least give us time until June."

"We are sorry," is what the court said before rejecting the petition.

The photos in this post, taken by photographer Michael Foley, highlight the conflicting interests at play. In the US we've already seen the spectacularly unpredictable systemic effects that can follow the collapse of manufacturing hubs; what's next for Bangladesh remains to be seen.