Researsh & Study

Employment and working conditions in Bangladesh’s leather industry
Timeline: 2022

Bangladesh’s leather sector makes up about 3 per cent of the world’s market for leather and leather goods. The country’s export of leather and leather goods was worth $941.7 million in FY 2021, representing 2.4 per cent of the country’s total export earnings. However, Bangladesh’s export earnings from the leather industry have been on the decline over the last few years. Bangladesh government relocate tannery industry from Hazaribagh to Savar to ensure effluent treatment plants and environmental protection. However, the new estate in Savar has yet to achieve environmental compliance. Even after the relocation from Hazaribagh, which promised better living and working conditions for the tannery workers, the industry is still struggling to ensure minimum wages, basic labour rights, and occupational health and safety. The leather tanning industry in Bangladesh is failing to deal with the challenges of weak environmental compliance on the one hand and poor labour standards and occupational safety on the other hand, which is impacting on production. This study aims to assess the employment and working conditions in Bangladesh’s leather industry. 

It focuses on the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of tannery workers, their rights to association and collective bargaining rights, occupational health and safety, and labour and employment practices at tanneries.

Objectives: The study presents data-driven analyses of the characteristics of workers and working conditions in tanneries in Bangladesh; problems and challenges associated with the practices of fair labour standards, and occupational health and safety; and the impact of the recent relocation of the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar.

Methodology: This study used both quantitative and qualitative data collection instruments to gather detailed information about the tannery workers. a questionnaire survey through in-person interviews was administered to workers. Moreover, researchers conducted several KIIs FGDs.

Findings: The key findings suggest that workers in the new tannery estate in Savar face various challenges, including accommodation and transportation crises, inadequate medical and schooling facilities, and little or no improvement in workers’ safety and rights. This is in addition to relocation-induced separation from families. Employment in the tannery industry also remains highly gender-insensitive, as employers are reluctant to hire female workers. Wage growth and employment benefits are minimal in the industry with more than half of the surveyed workers earning less than the legal minimum wage. Workers toil for long hours, sometimes with forced overtime, and are subject to the whims of their employers because of scant union activism, weak workers’ representation, and the lack of formal employment arrangements such as written contracts. In view of the key findings, we suggest the following policy recommendations to help improve working conditions and contribute to a healthy leather industry in Bangladesh.


  • Employers must respect the rights of workers. They must provide a safe and healthy workplace. In addition, employers need to train new workers if the job involves working with toxic chemicals or other materials such as machinery that might potentially cause workplace hazards.
  • Employment in the tanneries must be formalized by requiring employers to offer workers a written and signed contract enshrining their duties and responsibilities, as well as compensation and employment benefits.
  • Workers need to be aware of their rights and need to be able to protest against incidents of labour violations through legitimate collective actions, i.e. union activism etc.

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