Why is Tamil Nadu heavily polluted

Show me your shoes! Social and environmental impacts of tanneries in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in India

Large areas around the tanneries are heavily polluted, the quality of the groundwater and the agricultural areas suffer considerably from the tanneries. In addition, the working conditions are extremely precarious: low wages, no social security, very long working hours and serious deficiencies in terms of health and safety at work. This is proven by the new study “Show me your shoes” by the Change Your Shoes campaign.

The interviews of workers in Indian tanneries carried out for the study show that the workers work under inhumane conditions. They cannot live on their wages, have unregulated working conditions and long working hours are part of their everyday life. In addition, most of the workers in the tanneries receive piece wages; thus workers' income is directly linked to their productivity.

Workers in tanneries are exposed to a number of health and safety risks. A wide variety of chemicals are used there and the workers have poor or no protective clothing at all and are often not trained in handling the chemicals used. The interviewed workers in the tanneries stated that they suffered from high temperatures and a lot of noise in the tanneries. They also reported work-related health problems such as muscle and joint pain, skin diseases, respiratory problems and eye irritation. This is a direct consequence of a lack of protective equipment.

Soil and water samples reveal the alarming levels of pollution and health risks around tanneries. Significant amounts of water are contaminated by sewage and solid waste. We are particularly concerned about the presence of the toxic chemical chromium VI. It can arise during tanning with chrome - and chrome tanning is the most widely used tanning process in the areas studied. This is a massive threat to arable land and groundwater, and thus the health of the local population.

The field research took place in the states of Uttar Pradesh (Kanpur and Agra) in the north and Tamil Nadu (Peranambut, Ambur and Chrompet) in the south of India.

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Funded by the European Union and by means of the Church Development Service through Bread for the World - Evangelical Development Service and Engagement Global on behalf of the BMZ. The editors are solely responsible for the content of this study.