By Vanita Suneja
In 2030, when I would be turning sixty, I’d like to tell my grandchildren the story of how – once upon a time – the lives of poor people in South Asia were transformed: that leaders came together to bring economic prosperity and social development to people that until then had lived in an unequal and polluted world.
What I am more likely to tell them, is how – even with the knowledge that nearly 800 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – governments failed to act and people remain locked in a cycle of ill-health and poverty.
Ending the cycle of poverty absolutely by 2030, without leaving behind a single person, is the most ambitious promise made to date by world leaders in 2015 when they adopted the sustainable development goals: which included the provision of universal access to water and sanitation that is essential for achieving significant progress in health, education and equality.
When people have access to clean water and decent sanitation, their wellbeing increases: women and girls have time to go to school because they don’t have to fetch water for their families – this responsibility often falls on the female members or a family, and with better health comes increased productivity both in school and at work.
For every £1 invested in WASH at least £4 is returned in increased productivity, primarily based on improved health and more time to work or study.
With floods and droughts affecting the region at different times of the year, it is important that climate-resilient services are set up. This includes managing resources responsibly and minimising the effects of climate change.
Governments in South Asia have taken steps in the right direction. Nepal has taken a rights-based approach to water, sanitation and hygiene in its constitution, which sets the bar for accountability at the highest political level. The constitution states peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment as well as the right to access to safe water and sanitation.
Through its Clean India Mission, an incredible story emerges from India, where considerable progress has been made on sanitation. The Indian government aims to ensure that the entire population will have access to a decent toilet by 2019, so that nobody has to go in the open after that.
Bangladesh has shown the way on inclusion, having achieved the Open Defecation Free status before 2015. The government of Bangladesh has since adopted an inclusive approach to water as well, and is working to connect all those living in makeshift houses in the capital’s slums to a piped network.
Despite this progress, South Asia faces daunting challenges. Governments, donors and the private sector must be held accountable if they are not doing enough. While 88 percent of South Asia’s population has access to at least basic water, still more than half the population of South Asia lacks access to even basic sanitation.
Disparities are large between cities and rural areas: while 5.6 percent of the urban population in South Asian nations defecate in the open – having no other option as no decent sanitation is available to them – yet in rural areas, this is as high as 45 percent.
For all nations to deliver on their commitment to provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, governments need to prioritise WASH – the NGO term for water, sanitation and hygiene – and ensure that finances are directed towards achieving those goals.
Sanitation, water and hygiene have a bearing on health, education, nutrition, equality and poverty eradication. WASH is thus crucial to breaking the cycle of ill-health and poverty in which too many people still live today.
An important part of the promise to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere, is to leave no one behind. This requires renewed focus on addressing the equity challenge.
The private sector and civil society groups have an important role to play in partnering with the government to reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations.
This week, world leaders are coming together at the United Nations in New York to discuss the progress made on sustainable development goal 6 – to provide universal access to clean water and decent sanitation.
This is an important moment to highlight the urgency of having clean drinking water and a proper toilet, and to ensure that the lives of people in South Asia and beyond will be transformed within a generation.
Published on IPS on July 16, 2018
By Anuradha Nagaraj
Women making clothes for global fashion brands in South Asia are often yelled at by their supervisors and have to take out loans to make ends meet, hundreds of garment workers' diaries showed.
A year-long study of more than 500 workers in Cambodia, India and Bangladesh found women often work overtime or borrow money from their husbands to feed their families and pay rent.
"I wouldn't have enough money if we ate a lot," read one entry by Chenda in Cambodia, where researchers found most workers were in their 20s and married, with some primary education and earned about $45 for a 48-hour week.
Fashion industry manufacturers have come under pressure to improve conditions and workers' rights, particularly after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh.
The largely female workforce in South Asia is often underpaid, faces verbal and sexual harassment on a daily basis and is forced to work long hours, campaigners say.
The research, published on Tuesday, was carried out by transparency campaigners Fashion Revolution and The C&A Foundation, affiliated with retailer C&A, which partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on trafficking.
The diaries' aim, they said, was to show "the human cost" of fashion and improve workers' lives.
"This gives brands something to consider above and beyond their margins when deciding where to make their clothes," Eric Noggle, research director at Microfinance Opportunities, said in a statement.
"Their decisions have a real and meaningful impact on the lives of these women and their families."
Researchers found that India had the best living and working conditions and Bangladeshi women earned the least per hour, often forcing them to borrow money.
In Cambodia, despite earning the minimum wage and supplementing their income with overtime, researcher found that most workers were still short of money, which meant they had limited access to quality food and medical care.
"What we see are stories of endurance in face of a difficult combination of low wages and economic uncertainty," said Guy Stuart, executive director of Microfinance Opportunities.
Published on Thomson Reuters Foundation on February 21, 2018
The diaries are available below, and can be found at: http://workerdiaries.org/garment-worker-diaries-reports/
International Rescue Committee aid workers on the ground in Myanmar and Bangladesh are scaling up our response to the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis. Here's a look at the Rohingya refugee crisis by the numbers:
600,000+ Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar since August.
300,000 more Rohingya are expected to flee to Bangladesh in the coming weeks.
The total number of refugees in Bangladesh could soon top 1 million.
It's the fastest mass exodus IRC aid workers have seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
95% of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not have access to clean water, and more than three quarters lack food.
120,000 Rohingya remain trapped in Myanmar, cut off from essential services and dependent on aid to survive.
The United Nations emergency response plan is only one-quarter funded by donor countries, leaving a shortfall of $328 million.
What's happeningRohingya Muslim refugees arriving in Bangladesh tell of the horrors they endured as their families were attacked and their villages burned in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine. “The levels of trauma that we are seeing here are severe," said Sanna Johnson, the IRC's Asia regional director. "We have spoken to women who have seen their children slaughtered before their eyes."
With aid agencies overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis amid humanitarian funding shortfalls, people are living in increasingly dire conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. An IRC assessment released on Oct 23 found that their greatest needs are health care, food, protection for women and children, shelter and sanitation.
“In a crisis of such unprecedented scale, we need the full weight of the international community to save lives in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and take concerted action in what is undoubtedly the most urgent refugee crisis in the world," said Johnson.
How the IRC helpsThe IRC and our partners are launching an emergency response in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh focused on essential health assistance, treatment of malnutrition, protection of vulnerable children, and a range of specialized services for women and girls.
In Myanmar, the IRC is gradually resuming critical health and protection programs in Rakhine State, serving both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages—but humanitarian access remains restricted for humanitarian groups and thousands remain out of reach of lifesaving aid.
Published on IRC on October 23, 2017.
By MARTHA MENDOZA and JULHAS ALAM
Hazardous, heavily polluting tanneries, with workers as young as 14, supplied leather to companies that make shoes and handbags for a host of Western brands, a nonprofit group that investigates supply chains says.
The report by New York-based Transparentem, released to The Associated Press on Friday, didn't say leather from the tanneries ends up in American and European companies' products, only that the manufacturers of some of those goods receive it.
Some companies say they're certain the leather used to make their products was imported from outside Bangladesh, and the manufacturers concur. Still, in response to the report most brands had switched factories, banned Bangladesh leather or demanded improvements and audits.
The abuses alleged have long plagued Hazaribagh, a Dhaka neighborhood that's the hub of Bangladesh's leather industry with more than 150 tanneries. The air is noxious with an eye-stinging rotten-egg odor, and children play on small hills of rotting hide trimmings. The Buriganga River, a source of drinking water for 180,000 people, shimmers with poisons from tannery chemical runoff, as well as other human and industrial waste.
The $1 billion-a-year industry was ordered to shut down and move more than 15 years ago, but deadlines have passed without consequence and fines go unpaid. Last week, Bangladesh's High Court told authorities to stop supplying gas, water and electricity to the tanneries. Rawhide supplies have also been ordered halted.
And yet they're still in business, fueled by consumer demand for ever-more-stylish but low-priced wallets and boots.
Transparentem uses investigative journalism practices to tackle labor and environmental abuses, producing detailed reports that are privately shared with companies involved. The group gives companies time to respond before sharing its findings with investors, regulators, advocacy organizations or journalists.
Its confidential Hazaribagh report and accompanying video, shared late last year with about a dozen U.S. and European brands and companies, showed workers at five different tanneries bent double under the weight of soaking wet cow hides, shuffling past heavy machinery delivering heavy loads. Workers are seen whipping handheld razors through leather, tossing off loose trimmings. Barrels of chemicals lean against walls. The floor is wet, and some workers are barefoot.
Bangladesh law prohibits workers under 18, but some appeared to be teenagers. The report says that in 2015, a mother confirmed her child working in a tannery was 14. Footage from 2016 showed the child was still working there. On the video, a 17-year-old told the videographer his age. And there's 2016 footage of two workers agreeing that 15-year-olds are onsite.
Transparentem is not publishing its findings but showed the video to an AP reporter before sharing the report. It said the discretion was needed to protect its investigators and the workers, and that the research is ongoing.
The nonprofit said its Hazaribagh team tracked leather first-hand and with corporate reports from two tanneries, Apex Tannery Ltd. and Bay Tannery Ltd., to Bangladesh shoemakers Apex Footwear and Bay Footwear. Apex Tannery also sent leather to South Korean leather dealer White Industries, said the report. From White, Transparentem tracked leather to Simone Accessories, a South Korean handbag maker.
Using customs records and business documents, they found those factories make shoes and purses for Clarks, Coach, Kate Spade, Macy's, Michael Kors, Sears, Steven Madden and Timberland. Also included were Germany-based Deichmann, a shoe and sportswear chain, and two U.S. firms — Harbor Footwear Group and Genesco — which design and market shoes in even more brands.
No one followed a piece of leather produced by a child to a particular purse or shoe.
E. Benjamin Skinner, founder and principal of Transparentem, said the group investigates endemic problems within an industry, and looked into Apex and Bay because they are among the largest.
"We tell brands and retailers what they may not, but should, know about those with whom they do business. This gives them the opportunity to use their influence with their suppliers to address questionable activity and advance positive action," Skinner said.
The American and European brands that responded to queries from the AP stated their commitments to prevent labor abuse in manufacturing. But some brands, the Bangladeshi companies involved and industry officials disputed the report's findings.
"That NGO went to our buyers too," said Shahin Ahmed, chairman of the Bangladesh Tanners' Association. "They showed them some video clips of child workers who are engaged in manufacturing some byproducts. ... They are no way part of the main industry, I can challenge anybody."
Syed Nasim Manzur, managing director of Apex Footwear and a director at the Apex Tannery, calls Hazaribagh "an environmental disaster" and said they'll soon close their plant there. But he said the report is a "smear campaign," allegations of child labor are unsubstantiated, and Hazaribagh leather doesn't end up in exported products.
Manzur said Apex Footwear and Apex Tannery are separate entities, although they have some owners in common and are associated businesses. He said Apex Footwear has two separate shoe-making factories, one for local markets and another, across the street, for exports. The Hazaribagh leather goes only to the local factory, he said.
Bay Footwear technical adviser Rezaur Rahman, speaking for Bay Group, which includes their tannery, called Transparentem's findings "absolutely baseless."
"We worked with the International Labor Organization and trade unions. I don't understand how and where they found child workers in the industry," Rahman said. "We don't have any child workers."
Coach — whose website says their produce is "handcrafted from the finest American and European hides and textiles" — said they get no more than 1.5 percent of their leather from Hazaribagh and Kate Spade said they get just 1 percent. Both said they're stopping any purchases from Hazaribagh.
Michael Kors and Harbor Footwear said they were a few steps removed from the Hazaribagh tanneries, hadn't knowingly sourced leather there, and would make sure not to.
Clarks and Deichmann said they are certain no Hazaribagh leather ended up in their products.
Deichmann said Apex Footwear only makes their shoes with imported leather or hides processed at Apex Gazipur tannery that they've audited.
A Clarks spokesman said the company "is only responsible for the sourcing of materials in our own products and cannot control the sourcing of others."
Sears, Timberland, Macy's, Genesco and Steven Madden all said that while they weren't getting leather from the tanneries, they saw an opportunity to use their companies' leverage at the related factories to bring improvements, with some using threats, others offering auditors and support.
Attorneys representing Apex Footwear and Macy's, Steven Madden and Genesco signed an agreement last month that says Apex will verify that all tannery workers are adults using protective gear, and that independent auditors would oversee longer-term improvements.
Steve Park, sales director at White Industry Co., said the South Korean company stopped using raw materials from Bangladesh late last year after U.S. clients such as Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade informed them about environmental problems and child labor issues. Now they use American, Brazilian and Pakistani suppliers, he said.
Scott Nova at the Worker Rights Consortium in Washington, D.C., said a brand or retailer that is serious about protecting worker rights, and about honoring its public commitments to do so, would not do business with a factory that sources from suppliers that engage in dangerous and abusive practices.
"This principle applies, whether or not leather from the tanneries in question is being used in a brand's products," he said.
Global brands are drawn to manufacturing in Bangladesh by low wages, and leather shoes, belts and purses are top exports. But many Bangladeshi manufacturers depend on domestic tanneries for their leather, and 90 percent of those tanneries are in Hazaribagh.
Conditions in the neighborhood are deplorable. Chemicals and defecation run milky-white through open sewers, pouring untreated into the river, more of a waste pond than a waterway. Metal tarnishes quickly; electronics corrode.
Tannery workers live in small, hot, steel-walled rooms perched on precarious stilts above creeks of raw sewage and mounds of stinking scraps.
AP journalists were not allowed inside Apex and Bay's Hazaribagh tanneries, but workers walking out said no children were employed there now.
Reporters did find children working in smaller Hazaribagh tanneries not mentioned by Transparentem. The work is hazardous, with large equipment and little to none of the protective clothing, splash aprons, safety goggles and respirators mandatory at North American and European tanneries.
The AP team watched as a man tasted liquid from a drum that processes leather to test for salt levels.
"We would hope to avoid the harm that can be caused by the liquid when the body and the limbs are exposed to it," said another Hazaribagh leather tanner, Mohammed Harun, 52. "There are some powders and chemicals that infect us when inhaled."
He said they need boots, gloves and masks.
"If the owners provide us with these things, it will improve the situation," he said.
A British Medical Journal study published this week found that Bangladeshi tannery workers as young as 8 frequently have untreated rashes and infections, as well as asthma and other lung problems. Pure Earth — a nongovernmental organization that addresses industrial pollution — has put Hazaribagh on its Top 10 list of polluted places, along with Chernobyl. Similar problems exist at tannery clusters in the Philippines and India.
Human Rights Watch advocate Richard Pearhouse, who has reported on pollution and child labor at Hazaribagh tanneries, said none comply with national environmental laws or repeated court orders to move.
American shoppers can make a difference, he said.
"Consumers should be asking plenty of sharp questions on the shop floor about what retailers are doing to guarantee they are not sourcing leather from Hazaribagh's toxic tanneries," he said.
Published on AP's website on March 25, 2017.