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Leather Export of Pakistan

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    The Issue The rampant discharge of untreated effluents tanneries is a growing problem in Pakistan’s leather industry. Pakistani exports of tanned leather is on the increase following a decline of leather production in the developed world due to more stringent environmental controls. The increase of tanneries in Pakistan is causing severe environmental degradation as the untreated effluent used in the tanning process is released into nearby water eservoirs and the sea.

    In addition, air pollution is on the rise with the tanneries burning residuals (i. e. hair) from the tanning process into the atmosphere. Due to a need for foreign exchange, the national government is encouraging the growth of tanneries by offering these industries export rebates while at the same time lagging on implementing the sparse existing governmental environment regulations in leather tanning. The combination of an increasing demand for the product and a lack of government regulation is exacerbating whatever fragile balance existed between the Pakistani leather trade and the environment.

    The relationship between the Pakistani leather trade and the environment is being strained by a growing demand for the product in the world and ignorance of environmental problems resulting from the tanning process. A one noted Pakistani news journalist commented, “The tanning industry is notorious for its heavy pollution through effluents containing organic and inorganic matter, dissolved and suspended solids, accompanied by requirements of high oxygenic demand and having toxic metal salt residues… these tanneries discharge effluents without any reatment into water reservoirs and the sea. ”

    Often, the tanneries are located in industrial areas within Pakistan that contain a large percentage of the population. With scarce land resources, the pollution is affecting large numbers of people. While the effluent contaminates the water supply on the land, it also pollutes the sea. This pollution in turn affects the food supply for the population. Moreover, much of the country is subjected to the direct air pollution caused by burning the tannery residuals into the open atmosphere.

    All of these forms of pollution are having detrimental effects upon the health of Pakistanis. The primary pollutants that leather tanning in Pakistan creates are heavy metals (chromium, cadium, etc. ), various organic chemicals, and acids. The Pakistani government recently tested the effluent runoff from leather tanneries in Pakistan and verified that the discharges were toxic. The sample of tannery effluent contained . 30 copper milligrams per liter, . 15 cadmium milligrams per liter, 7 zinc milligrams per liter, 1. 14 nickel milligrams per liter, and 1. lead milligrams per liter.

    These levels were almost all well above the suggested standard for toxic substance concentrations in effluent. Very few of the tanneries have any type of waste treatment facility and this runoff is released into the nearest drain (most likely an open one) or body of water such as the sea or a river. The effluent is uncontrolled by any process treatment, waste recycling, or end-of-pipe treatment. Leather tannery discharge, combined with mangrove destruction and over-fishing, are contributing to a sharp decrease in shrimp production. The mangroves-whose leaf litter is a major source of nutrients–provide a diverse habitat for a complex and interdependent community of invertebrates, fish, birds, and reptiles.

    In addition, almost 90 percent of tropical marine species seek shelter in the mangroves for one stage of their life cycles. The loss of the commercially important shrimp in Pakistan is having a devastating effect on the fishing industry, which is partially dependent on the shrimp supply. Shrimp exports are an important foreign exchange earner for the fishing industry and Pakistan as a whole. Moreover, the leather tannery operations near Peshawar are polluting the Kabul river and threatening its use for domestic and irrigation purposes as a freshwater fishery.

    Although the majority of the leather tanneries are centered around Karachi and have negatively affected the coastal area, the other factories located further inland near rivers are having just as devastating effects. This pollution is having a particularly costly environmental effect on the Pakistani government’s attempt to encourage private freshwater fisheries in order to combat rampant overfishing along the coastline.

    Due to the increase in river pollution from the tanneries, and therefore tainting the available water resources for the fishponds, the project to alleviate the strain being place on the coastal marine life is not likely to be a success. The leather industry in Pakistan is continuing to grow. In fact, the overall bulk of industrialization still lies ahead and it is expected that industry will double in 10 years and then double again.

    The leather tanneries will no doubt be a part of this burgeoning trend. As long as there is a profit to be made in the arena, new factories-small or large–will continue to start up. In 1990 the leather sector jumped to become the second largest foreign exchange earner for the country by contributing 10. 41 percent toward the total export revenue.

    The increase in tanned leather exports (not even including leather garments) from 1990-1995 alone is astounding. The leather products industry increased its amount of exports from $271 million USD in the 1990-1991 fiscal year to $349 million USD in 1994-95! The impetus behind the increase in tanneries in Pakistan is a rising world demand for tanned leather. Indeed, a Pakistani journalist explains that “while the production of tanneries in the developed countries has grossly come down due to either closure of tanneries or the leather produced there has become too expensive due to strict environment control laws, the developed countries have become more and more dependent on the supply of lather from the developing countries… ainly due to the violation of even basic civic laws in the developing countries whereby the tanners discharge all the effluent without any treatment … Pakistan is no exception. ”

    This problem is immediately apparent when one researches the limited body of environmental guidelines for leather tanneries and the lack of enforcement of any existing environmental legislation. Paradoxically, the national government–in seeking to increase government revenue and employment opportunities–is encouraging the growth of the leather tanning industry with export rebates.

    This policy of encouraging the growth of the leather industry with little regulation is compounding the environmental problem in Pakistan. Although some NGOs and concerned citizens are working to raise awareness of the dangers of these policies, little is being done to control the situation. Until Pakistan is forced to adhere to international norms for pollution control in its domestic leather tanneries, the situation will likely worsen at the expense of the average Pakistani citizen in terms of a declining quality of life.

    The Pakistani state, while at the same time needing to promote industry in the country, is the only entity that can formulate the strict environment protection laws and ensure effective implementation of these laws at the local level. However, due to the leather industries prominent position in Pakistan’s export industry, the national government has instead offered incentives– such as a rebates on the export of leather and leather products, duty-free import of raw hides and skins for re-export after value- addition, and export refund scheme on export of leather footwear– to bolster the leather industry with very little environmental guidance.

    These incentives are increasing the profit margin of the leather industry and encouraging more operations to set up shop–without the environmental controls. By falsely inflating the profit margin for such leather tanning operations, however, the government has created that much more of a difficult task in inevitably mandating the installation of waste-treatment equipment. The strong leather industry is currently still in a position to lobby strongly against such increased costs. NGOs and other concerned citizens are trying to work with the Pakistani government and the Pakistan Tanners Association (PTA) to establish some environmental safeguards. Although the PTA has reportedly agreed to establish effluent treatment facilities, there has been very little progress.

    In addition to the need for national environmental legislation on the leather industry, local laws could be promulgated as well to combat the growing tannery effluent problem. In fact, certain industrial areas are suffering greater environmental damage and would benefit from local legislation. For example, in Karachi, the Korangi Industrial Area has the largest number of tanneries working in that sector and is the most polluted area with “open drains and effluent being discharged without any treatment. “(10) Although national regulations need to be put in effect, it is often left up to the state enforcement agencies.

    In addition, there needs to be some attention given to the differing circumstances of each region, which would suggest some form of state/region legislation as well. For example, it would be far more effective to address the local tannery pollution problems at the local level, given adequate support to such enforcement by the national government. Therefore, more attention should be place on straightening some of the state agencies in order to effectively address the leather tannery effluent dilemma. 1

    Culture: YES The polluting aspects of the tanneries inevitably hit the poorest the hardest. Traditionally, in Pakistan, the “lower- caste” (poorer) people work in the tanneries, which is strenuous and labor-intensive. These jobs have been handed down in the family for generations. Moreover, in a populous and developing country such as Pakistan, people often compete for these jobs and are forced to put up with dangerous working conditions.

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    Leather Export of Pakistan. (2018, May 03). Retrieved from

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