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Pollution by export oriented tannery industries, Bangladesh

Government fails to regulate polluting tanneries causing miseries to millions


The country’s first tannery unit was set up in Narayanganj District in the 1940s, namely the ‘Dhaka tannery’. It was later shifted to Hazaribagh (a densely populated residential area of Dhaka) around 1950. Tanneries in Bangladesh are largely export oriented and has been ranked as the 5th most polluting industry of the world by the Blacksmith Institute’s report in 2010. There are about 185 tannery industries are operating in Hazaribagh. Every day, the tanneries collectively dump 22,000 cubic litre of toxic wastes including cancer causing hexavalent chromium into Buriganga. This industrial cluster is affecting 160,000 inhabitants, 12000 workers and has virtually killed the Buriganga (which could be a source of potable water for the 1.6 crore city dwellers) through its extremely hazardous operation. Due to the death of the Buriganga River, water supply in Dhaka has become totally dependent on groundwater that again is depleting at an alarming rate.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Pollution by export oriented tannery industries, Bangladesh
State or province:N/A
Location of conflict:Savar and Hazaribagh, Dhaka
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Chemical products
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

With an aim to introduce an environment-friendly leather processing industrial zone and to attract the foreign investment the Tannery Industrial Estate Dhaka (TIED) has started its construction after a long dilemma among Government of Bangladesh and Tanners in 2014 at Savar upzilla of Dhaka division. The proposed TIED consist of 200 acres of land of which 17 acres for Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP). In 2003 a development project plan (DPP) for constructing TIED at the bank of Dhaleshwari river was proposed considering a total number of 205 industrial plots along with other infrastructural development like roads, drainage system, water distribution lines etc.

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Project area:100
Level of Investment:135,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:around 186,000
Start of the conflict:05/06/1995
Relevant government actors:Ministries of Industries; Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives (Local Government Division); Environment and Forests; Department of Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Informal workers
Trade unions
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Shift of the location of the tanneries
Development of alternatives:Relocation plan to Savar with Central Effluent Treatment Plant and Solid Waste Dumping Station is being executed
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:While there has been significant delay in relocation (despite court orders), it now transpires that the Savar Industrial Estate is not fully prepared to deal with the wastes. This is leading to grievances from the dwellers of Savar who are faced with pollution from tanneries just like the residents of Hazaribagh. Also, there is uncertainty regarding timeframe for full relocation from Hazaribagh to Savar (which may render the CETP non-functional) and completion of waste management facilities in Savar.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995; Factories Act, 1965

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Hazaribagh named 5th most polluted place on earth-Around 160,000 people become victims due to the presence of chromium
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Relocation of Hazaribagh tanneries

The whole saga is yet another typical Bangladeshi experience of not following through on plans and promises
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Hazaribagh reels from pollution

Only 6 tanneries operating in Savar; relocation of most of the factories to take months
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35% of Hazaribagh tanneries relocated to Savar

Construction of the remaining tannery units continues and machinery is being shifted from Hazaribagh to Savar
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Dhaleshwari faces risk of salinity.

A huge quantity of dissolved salt will be discharged into the Dhaleshwari river from the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate as the central effluent treatment plant (CETP) there doesn't have the component needed for desalinising wastewater.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The river runs black: pollution from Bangladesh's tanneries – in pictures
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Syeda Rizwana Hasan, BELA, [email protected]
Last update24/08/2017
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