An Article In Footwear NewsPresentation Transcript
Hoof to Hide The Social and Environmental Impacts of Leather Production Elmer Tosta Race Poverty and the Environment Professor Raquel R. Pinderhughes Urban Studies Program San Francisco State University Spring 2003 Public has permission to use the material herein, but only if author, course, university, and professor are credited .
This Presentation focuses on Leather.
It is designed to take you through the cradle to grave lifecycle of leather, paying particular attention to the social, environmental, and public health impacts of the processes associated with its origins on the animal through its preparation for use by the consumer.
We start by looking at the factory farm processes, the slaughtering of the animals, the tanning of the skins. finally, their disposal when they are no longer desirable
Throughout this report comparisons will be drawn between developed and developing nations. These comparisons will help illustrate the social and environmental injustices imposed upon developing nations by the developed ones through consumptive demand for product.
The leather industry exists on many different levels throughout the world. In the United States, the industry is probably the highest quality in terms of working conditions and environmental concerns, but by no means ideal.
The industry is not growing, consequently there is no expansion, no people being dislocated, only the shift of one type of production to another.
The biggest market in the U.S. for leather is the auto industry
The steps in producing and tanning animal skins starting in the corral and ending at the sales counter as finished goods is a long process that leaves its effects on individuals and communities world wide.
For some there is economic gain.
Wages to workers
Profits to owners and investors who are involved in livestock farming and the manufacture, distribution, and retail of leather products.
For others there is the disease that comes from exposure.
Directly working in the tanning process.
Using water and produce contaminated with by-products from factory feedlots, slaughterhouses, and tanneries.
Scope of Report
Feedlots, slaughterhouses, and tanneries in the U.S., Thailand, Viet Nam, India, and Bangladesh will be cited.
Big business is not an assurance of the practice of sound environmental justice principles.
Small businesses in developing countries can be deadly to those who cling to their ways of making a living in the leather industry .
Companies have made public stands against the inhumane slaughter of animals, but are not so quick to take the same stand and boycott a facility for its work conditions or its disregard of the environment and the effects that these behaviors have on the workers and residents in the vicinity of the production site.
How did leather come into being?
When leather was a protective skin, used to keep people warm or protect them from the elements, it was used in balance with the environment and the processes used in tanning weren’t lethal. The skins came from a local producer. The concept was smaller, and from the impression given by the research, kinder and gentler to the animals as well as humans. The quantity of leather produced was much lower, and probably the population owned fewer, if any, leather garments or sat on leather upholstered seats.
Only after the market responded to the vanity of consumers did the development of different processes affect the health and well being of industry workers and residents near feedlots and tanneries. The Sierra Club Rap Sheet points out that in the current market, (referring to beef for food), because of demand, there would never be a kinder gentler way and that the agricultural factories were here to stay.
The Sierra Club Rap Sheet reads like a “who’s who” of environmental violators in the slaughterhouse and meat packing industries within the United States. Locations ranging from the Midwest, (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska), to the South, (Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas), are home to slaughterhouses that have been found to be guilty of contaminating their natural environments.
Tanneries around the world, as cited by various sources in this report, will be shown as examples of workplaces that contaminate to their environments as well as expose their workers to hazardous conditions.
In some parts of the world, people are dying to get into the business.
An anonymous article in the African News describes a situation where the population of Namibia is asking their government to allow the slaughtering of cattle, which the government is cautious about because of the lack of facilities. Namibia is looking to expand its capacity to slaughter its own cattle in order to avoid exporting “on the hoof.” The problem is that they don’t have sufficient slaughterhouses and tanneries to process their livestock.
The government of Namibia is concerned that lack of appropriate facilities will lead to conditions similar to those in Bangladesh and India, (described elsewhere in this report), where health and environmental hazards have gotten out of control by spreading pollution and disease. The government should receive accolades for not jumping at an economic incentive that jeopardizes the health of its citizens and their future generations.
Even more people dying to get in.
The communities of Tangra and Tiljala in India were protesting in 2002 the proposed closing of their tanneries to benefit a larger production facility that would put them out of work (Niyogi, Novemer 23, 2002) . This situation mimics the post civil was Slaughterhouse Cases where the authorities removed economic opportunity from the disenfranchised for the benefit of the more powerful business owner. Again, this points to a situation where people are fighting for an opportunity to work in a lethal industry.
Thank the “Untouchables” for the cheap labor.
The lowest members of the caste system, known as the “untouchables,” make up the workforce of the Indian leather industry.
The caste system does not allow them to work their way up or out of the oppressed and disenfranchised conditions they’re born into.
Their low status condemns them to lifelong exposure to numerous toxins and unsafe work conditions which are detrimental to their health and the health of subsequent generations (Srivastava, August 23, 2001) .
Women in the workforce
60% of the 2.5 million workers who make up the Indian leather industry labor force are women. Many of themn are the single wage earner in the family (Srivstava, August 23, 2001) .
Ironically, the plight of these workers was brought to the attention of the general public through the efforts of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who organized a boycott by large domestic and foreign manufacturers who use Indian leather in their products. The focus of the boycott was the cruel treatment of the animals (Srivastava, august 23, 2001) .
Developed nations were more readily moved into action by the pleas of animal rights activists than by the needs of those who produce their luxury goods.
The emotional appeal of leather industry workers suffering doesn’t always tug at the heartstrings of consumers.
Demand for leather goods forces unfair labor practices. The tannery that produces the best product in Hazaribagh, Bangladesh is the one staffed by children (Skeem, October 3, 2002).
The implications of workers’ lifelong exposure to the tanning process in a country with no safety standards would be unthinkable to most consumers in developed counties. The problem is most consumers aren’t aware of these conditions.
A Tale of Two Slums
One slum, in Seoul, has developed on the site of a former slaughterhouse, pointing out the the types of conditions in which the poor in developing nations are forced to live.
The other slum in Bangkok is inhabited by Christians who slaughter pigs (which is not allowed by the Buddhist population). There is a market for these animals and their skins, and consequently, the poorest segment of the economy is forced to slaughter animals in an inappropriate facitlity (probably their living quarters) in order to survive.
These two situations describe the degrading living conditions of people who have no means or network of support to rise above their conditions (Swift, R. January, 1995).
What happens to workers in a developing country when a large manufacturer leaves?
Once an industry pulls out, there is not much employment hope for those left behind, particularly if they’ve suffered an occupational injury. In 2002, Reebok pulled out of Viet Nam. An article in Footwear News , (Oct. 14, 2002) expressed concern for workers in a country with a lack of ability to develop safe standards for its workers (Ellis, Oct 14,2002).
The author cites high incidents of “musculoskeletal and neurobehavioral disorders in a large percentage (not specified) of the workers due to repetitive movement and exposure to chemical solvents” (Ellis, Oct 14,2002). China and Viet Nam are cited as high risk countries with regard to worker welfare. Do these workers end up in other high risk industries when an American manufacturer pulls out?
In some cases (such as this one involving Reebok), American manufacturers make up a majority of the production demands of some of these developing nations, thereby jeopardizing the livelihoods and the health of a large segment of the population.
Ellis points out that when a country goes from a dictatorship to a democracy; the American companies usually pull out, leaving behind a physically injured and unemployed workforce for which the company shares no liability.
Viet Nam is cited as a country targeted by the World Bank to develop and improve its footwear industry (Ellis, Oct 14,2002).
What happens when the workers leave?
The Handbook of Texas gives a history of the leather industry in the state and points to its decline due to reduced demand for Western apparel and the mechanization of the industry. Two centers, Gainsville and Yoakum, had the larges thriving leather tanning and manufacturing businesses in the state during the 1960’s
Where’d they go?
The effects these businesses had on their workers and the community at large should be evident, however the migration of a workforce that occurs when an industry experiences a downturn makes it difficult to trace the well being of these people with regard to their economic status and health conditions. There’s a high probability based upon the locations o these facilities that the majority of the workforce was Latino.
Because of the low labor costs in places like China, the Philippines, and India, the leather demand remains high due to the reduced price of tanning the skins.
India is cited as one of the greatest violators of workers rights and the environment within the leather industry (Srivastava, August 23, 2001).
What are the effects on the local ecosystems where production takes place?
When we use a leather product we probably don’t feel any injustice or immediate and direct environmental effect from product use. The effects, unfortunately are far more reaching than most of us realize.
American manufacturers are the largest consumers of leather, and more specifically, leather from India (Vartan, Sept/Oct 2002) Note: recent boycotts of Indian leather by American Manufacturers might have changed this situation.
U.S. beef, chicken, and pig industries produce 291,000,000,000 lbs of manure annually.
This waste is normally held in open lagoons.
In some cases, it is diluted and sprayed onto farm land.
Animal waste is one of the largest uncontrolled sources of water pollution in the U.S. (Swift, M. November 25, 2002)
The seepage from the lagoons as well as run-off from the sprayed land ends up in drinking water.
Sierra Club reports growth hormones, antibiotics, ammonia, pathogens, and pesticides enter the water supply via animal waste.
The cattle industry consumed 20 million pounds of chemicals at a value of 4.2 billion dollars in the year 2000.
Contamination of crops from spraying lagoon water waste as fertilizer.
Our resources in the U.S. are not immune to careless accidents by private industry.
One example from many is Cargill Pork, Inc. The company was cited for contaminating the water in the Loutre River in Missouri with animal waste products. (Becker, E. August 13, 2002)
Becker does explain that Cargill cooperated with inspectors, cleaned up the affected waterway, and shut down the offending operation. These measures help reduce the possibility of future accidents, but unfortunately do not help those exposed to the waste from the first contamination.
Factory Farms (Cont.)
Other environmental degradations from factory farming include “trees cleared to create pastureland, vast quantities of water are used, and feedlot and dairy farm runoff create a major source of water polution” (peta.org) .
“ Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production” (peta.org).
“ By Contrast, plastic wearables account for only a fraction of 1 percent of the petroleum used in the U.S” (peta.org)
High quantities of water required. (peta.org)
Hydrogen sulfide produced from hog farms (Sierra Club Rap Sheet).
The slaughtering of animals has traditionally been regarded at the low end of the socio-economic scale. This was reinforced in America in the late 19 th century with the Slaughterhouse Cases. The Institute for Justice web site is one of many resources containing articles describing these legal decisions.
“… Several parishes (counties) in eastern Louisiana wanted to move all meat and butchering slaughter house activities to a location outside the city limits. In so doing, the local government provided the Crescent City Live-stock Landing & Slaughter-house Company a 25 year monopoly to monitor and oversee all slaughter house operations. This monopoly effectively put all butchers in the area out of work, thus depriving these people of the right to work” ( Institute for Justice. 1998, May).
The decisions on these cases undid the work of the 14 th amendment. I chose this reference because it reinforces the negative economic effects on a particular segment of the society whose first employment and business opportunity was in a dirty industry. That segment was the newly freed slaves trying to get into the butchering industry in New Orleans. These cases lay the groundwork of racial injustice within the leather industry.
High energy consumption
“ On the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit of product produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorized with the aluminum, paper, steel, cement, and petroleum-manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy” (Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology)
The tanning process is the part of the sequence that exposes workers to contaminants and in developing countries is a lethal trade. Tanning was originally fairly harmless until the turn of the century when demand for leather went up and mineral saltd, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and cyanide based oils and dyes were introduced to speed up the process and allow for varied finish treatments to meet an expanding market.
The pre-1900 tanning process involved air or salt drying of the animal skin, which was then tanned with vegetable tannins or oils.
Too help acquaint you with the process, two methods are described, taken directly from their web sites. The first, an environmentally friendly but very archaic method. The second, a process used to produce first quality leather for high end products.
Environmentally Friendly Tanning
The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a lot of time preparing animal skins -- turning hides into leather for making shirts, trousers, and moccasins.
The first priority is to remove the animal skin as soon as possible after it's been killed. Then once the skin is off the flesh and hair have to be removed. The best way to do that is to stretch the hide.
A sharp scraping tool is used to get the skin as thin as possible. This way the hide will tan better and be more supple. Scraping usually takes the most time in tanning and you have to be careful not to cut through the hide. When the skin turns white or light brown, the scraping is done.
And now we have a raw hide -- which has uses all of its own, like making knife sheaves or containers called parfleches. But to make clothing, you need to continue tanning.
Take the hide off the frame and soak it in water -- one to seven days, depending upon how large the hide is. This turns the rawhide back into skin and makes it more receptive to the tanning solution. Now comes tanning, which refers to making the skin permanently soft.
Many of the explorers already knew how to tan using tannic acid from the hardwood trees of the east. Since there were no hardwood trees on the Plains, the explorers probably learned brain tanning from the Mandan Indians.
This means to take the animal's brains; smash it up and boil it in water to make a paste. After boiling, allow the mushy solution to cool long enough to smear onto the hide. Fold or roll the hide in the brain solution and let it sit overnight to soak. The rule of thumb is that each animal has enough brains to tan its own hide. By the next day, the brains should be completely soaked into the skin.
Now comes the most laborious part -- stretching the hide until it becomes completely dry. This must be done by hand. If you stop before it is absolutely dry it will stiffen up and then it will have to be retanned all over again.
Finally, the hide is smoked over a very smoky but not hot fire. This is an all day job and it is done until the entire skin has a nice, brownish color. The smoking permanently preserves the skin so that it can get wet and not stiffen up.
And now you have a completely brain-tanned elk hide -- ready to be made into clothing.
Tanning process from a developed country (Germany)
1. Warehousing and sorting In the raw material area the skins are preserved in salt, stored in controlled cool rooms and before processing, presorted for quality and weight.
2. Soaking The skin is soaked to remove dirt and salt.
3. De-Fleshing During this process tissue, flesh and fat remnants are removed by a roller mounted knife
4. Liming By adding lime and sulphur compound the hair is removed from the skin.
5. Bating, pickling, tanning During bating and pickling the skins are treated with acid and salt in preparation for tanning. During tanning the skin fibres absorb the tanning agents. That's when the skin becomes leather.
10. Neutralising, filling out, dyeing and greasing The acid resulting from the tanning process is neutralized. Dyeing than takes place, where appropriate with anilin-dye-stuffs. The greasing procedure will finally achieve the correct softness.
11. Drying Two methods are used to dry leather. The vacuum process during which moisture is removed by suction and the hanging process, when leather is hung and taken through ovens.
12. Staking Following drying the leather is mechanically staked in order to soften it. Further processes take place in preparation for finishing.
13. Finishing Here the leather is given its final surface treatment and look. Through processes of base coat, colouring, embossing, ironing the leather becomes, depending on the demands of fashion, matt or shiny, two-tone or uni-coloured, smooth or grained. The art of finishing lies in working in wafer-thin layers without disturbing the natural look of the leather and its characteristics such as suppleness and breathability.
The following quote describes the waste problems associated with tanning in a developing country. “
“ The setting for the Nur Bhai tannery is a wasteland where some 7.70 million liters of untreated liquid waste and 88 metric tons of untreated solid waste are dumped each day. The problems are obvious from the heaps of leather cuttings, fat, flesh and hair, from the nauseating stench of blood, rotting flesh, and chemicals, and from the acid corrosion on the nearby tin roofs.” http:// www.asiafoundation.org/ngobpweb/cg_cases.htm
Where the waste goes.
Most tanneries simply dump decaying flesh waste – 170 kg a day at Nur Bhai – outside to rot. The water, some 40 to 50 liters for each kilo of hide, is poured down a drain or onto the ground. The effluent carries putrid rotting flesh, blood and skin, as well as toxic chemicals – salt, alkali, sulfuric acid, bleach, dyes, and formic acid – straight into the ground, or through pipes to a low area to the west, where they seep into the soil of the surrounding http:// www.asiafoundation.org/ngobpweb/cg_cases.htm
There are many problems associated with feedlot wastes and the affects on those who come in contact with their pollution.
Researchers are trying to link the growth hormones used in animals with an increase in breast cancer in wormen (Swift, M. November 25, 2002).
You don’t have to work in the industry or live close to a factory farm to be affected by the contamination.
In Milwaukee in 1993, contamination of the drinking water was linked to 100 deaths and 400,000 illnesses. One of the contaminants in the water supply was identified as cow manure which seeped in from a waste lagoon (Sierra Club Rap Sheet).
Another example is the case of the day care operator in Minnesota, 1995, who was asked to remove the children from her facility because they were suffering from nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and other symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
The cause was the hydrogen sulfide in the air that was generated by the hog farm, about a mile upwind from the day care center (Sierra Club Rap Sheet).
Slaughterhouse work: bad for the body and the mind
Slaughterhouse , by Gail A. Eisnitz is an expose of the livestock slaughtering industry and deals mainly with the inhumane treatment animals. Several passages deal with the workers’ conditions, illnesses, and health affecting pollutants from the industry. (goveg.com)
Emotional Effects on Workers
There was no mention of race or gender: however the following quote helps illustrate the plight suffered by those in the slaughtering trade. The passage relates the violence of the work place to the potential for violence in the home:
“ Working in a slaughterhouse will dull one’s sense of compassion toward both animals and people, including loved ones” (Eisnitz, 76).
A Dangerous Industry
“… With nearly thirty-six injuries or illnesses for every one hundred workers, meat packing is the most dangerous industry in the United States. In fact, a worker’s chances of suffering an injury or an illness in a meat plant are six times greater than if that same person worked in a coal mind” (Eisnitz, 271).
Health Hazards in the Tanneries
One of the worst examples of social and environmental injustice within the tanning industry occurs in Bangladesh. The reference article is quoted directly:
Working conditions in tanneries are also said to expose workers to health hazards. A survey of 15,000 tannery workers by the non-governmental Society for Environment and Human Development in November 1999 found that more than half of them suffer from ulcers, nearly a third pick up skin diseases, more than a tenth suffer from rheumatic fever and nearly a fifth have jaundice. Other health complaints of leather factory workers include dizziness, headaches, weakness, abdominal pain and eye problems. According to Mohammad Hasan Ali, assistant director of Health in the Health Ministry, liquid waste and leather dust are the main cause of diseases found among tanners who work without proper footwear, gloves and masks. ''I don't like working in a leather factory, but I have to do this to support my large family,'' says 38-year-old Shahab, an employee at a tannery for the past decade. The health risks are even more serious for child laborers who make up a large number of the industry's workforces, despite a legal ban on factories hiring children below the age of 14. A United Nations Children's Fund report said that more than a fifth of workers of the nation's tanning industry are below 15 years old (Islam, 2000).
U.S. Health Hazards
Even in the U.S., people who work in or live near tanneries are dying from cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The Centers for disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average.
According to a New York State Department of Health study, more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries
The choices we make
Wearing a leather jacket, owning and using leather furniture, or riding in a auto with leather upholstery might not immediately affect our health and well being, however, collectively our choices have serious implications on the people who live near or work in the feedlots and tanneries.
How Consumers Learn About Leather
The public learns about all the desirable qualities of this product , but none of the consequences of its use.
Marketing creates a demand for a product that is capable of generating a profit.
Leather upholstery in an auto is one of several features that allows the manufacturer to upgrade the description of an automobile to luxurious.
A demand is created that seduces consumers into debt for leather products which generally cost much more than their fabric equivalents.
Leather is much more appropriate as footwear and other types of protective clothing than it is as shirts, pants, or dresses, where its direct contact with the skin causes the finish to wear prematurely and force the need for commercial cleaning which is almost as lethal as the tanning process.
The remedies of the social and environmental injustices are as varied and in some cases as obscure as the victims.
In the United States, governing agencies supposedly regulate and watch over the processes involved. The USDA watches over slaughter houses.
Fox in the henhouse
Two resources pointed to a disturbing fact.
All the top administrators in the agencies relevant to meat packing and slaughtering from the Reagan era forward are from the private sector of the livestock industry (Sierra Club Rap Sheet) (Becker, E. August 13, 2002).
A farm bill is being considered that would provide assistance to factory farms for the clean-up of their animal wastewater (Becker, E, August 13, 2002) . It looks like the factory farm industry is encouraging a business partnership with us taxpayers. They sell the goods, we pay for the clean-up.
Greening of the process
Most tanners in the U.S. claim that their processes are “biodegradable.” The PETA organization refers to the EPA’s determination that all wastes containing chromium (which accounts for 95% of the leather tanned in the United States) are classified as hazardous wastes. The process of tanning leather stabilizes the proteins and stops the biodegradable process.
The Asia foundation is working with the governments of Asian countries in an effort to improve the conditions of the industry with regard to the workers and the environment. Their efforts is much more diplomatic in nature than the efforts of PETA, however PETA, through its “soap boxing” seems to be more effective by aiming right for the pocket books of the industry.
The Asia Foundation claims success, although in small increments, with the tanneries in Bangladesh. Simple changes were made (not specified) that allowed the workers to perform their jobs more safely, to reduce pollution, and allow the businessmen to make a better product at a better profit. The Foundation claims that “
The Asia Foundation claims that::
“ To the casual observer, there is little change. The wastes are still heaped up around most tanneries, the air is still putrid, and the nearby rooftops damaged from acid corrosion. Most workers still cut hide, handle chemicals, and breath toxic fumes with bare hands, bare feet and unmasked faces.” http://www.asiafoundation.org/ngobpweb/cg_cases.htm
“ But at Nur Bhai, there is visible improvement. Less water and fewer chemicals are used, and the effluent is recycled, rather than dumped. Solid wastes are buried, or recycled for use as compost or manufactured products. Workers wear protective clothing and, due to safety training, take care during their duties at the sharp-bladed knives and chemical vats” http:// www.asiafoundation.org/ngobpweb/cg_cases.htm .
The foundation admits that broader reforms will take time, but these are the first steps in a long journey.
The first step in helping correct the situation is for all of us to become aware that human and environmental degradation take place in the production of this product.
We need to encourage tighter controls on the pollution standards at all levels of production from the feedlots to the tanneries. These controls should be financed by the businesses, not the tax payers.
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