Productive Lives: The Leather-Makers of Jajmau
Productive Lives is an investigative document of social and environmental exploitation in the Jajmau industrial area, near Kanpur, central Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state and one of its poorest.
A maze of run-down buildings, narrow roads, dumping grounds and sewage drains, Jajmau is home to about 400 tanneries, 40 per cent of which are considered illegal. Having grown unregulated on the banks of the Holy Ganges River, it is renowned for being one of the most important centres for leather in Asia. Its items, produced mostly on commission for international retail empires, are widely traded worldwide.
Contrary to the image of safety and responsibility that consumers are being presented with, hidden inside many of the tanneries, children collect skins in dark wet pools; others work under the sun, employed in disposal grounds. Spending long hours in toxic, harmful environments, they earn as little as 60 Indian Rupees (1 €) per day.
Most tanneries in Jajmau are interconnected: small units capable of only a few partial processes ‘pass on’ the leather to others along the production chain until it finally reaches large local manufacturers. Dealing exclusively with middlemen providing a regular supply of finished leather, they are unable to disprove accuasations of child exploitation in every sector. Dumping sites have also grown out of proportion on the banks of the Ganges. More than 150 tonnes of scraps are processed here daily to produce raw material for fertilisers and chicken food, with most units in the area dumping untreated wastewater into the river. Children living in nearby villages are beginning to show symptoms of contamination by heavy metals, used in large amounts for leather processing, and penetrating underground water reservoirs, while traditional activities like fishing and agriculture have also been disrupted.
The misconduct of the Indian capitalist elite, a complicit government and unethical foreign companies ought to be exposed to international consumers with the goal of redressing the violations through persuasive economic and political pressures.