Move over Italy. Developing countries are the up-and-coming leaders of the leather market, boasting cheaper production costs and fewer environmental regulations.
There is a good chance that your soccer ball, leather belt or aviator jacket was tanned in one of Pakistan’s 2,500 leather factories in the industrial centers of Karachi, Kasur, and Sialkot. The factories mostly employ poor people from neighboring areas, especially young children who will work for cheap wages. In one town alone, Kasur, more than 700 children worked in leather-tanning factories, according to the International Labor Organization.
NPR's Marketplace recently profiled a 17-year-old Pakistani boy, Mohmen, who's worked in the tanning industry since he was 13.
Like so many of Pakistan’s child workers, Mohmen has sacrificed his childhood to support his family. He has toiled in a hazardous leather tanning factory for four years. Six days a week Mohmen moves animal skins from a cart to a conveyor belt.
His heavy workload is not the only thing in the factory that will begin to take a toll on Mohmen. A 1996 Swedish study found that leather tannery workers experience an increased risk of cancer due to their exposure to toxic chemicals.
Mohmen would like to leave and go home to his family but he knows that he cannot. “How can I go home if I have to keep paying somebody? I keep paying what my family owes.” He is just a kid, but he is in an adult world where there is no rest from poverty's harsh realities.