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Swiss stores remove Bangladeshi shoes over toxic fears

Publication Date : 27-02-2013


Leather goods and footwear exporters in Bangladesh have expressed concern as two Swiss retailers recently removed various models of Bangladeshi shoes from their stores after tests found a hazardous chemical in the footwear items.

The manufacturers said Bangladesh exports leather goods and footwear maintaining all global standards and going through rigorous tests of international agencies.

The exporters have to pass a number of tests - from the pre-manufacturing to post-manufacturing stages - of various global testing agencies, said Syed Nasim Manzur, president of Leathergoods & Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh.

Besides, leather good are processed in compliance with the European community regulations on chemicals and their safe use, for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment, he said.

Manzur made the comment when his attention was drawn to a report published by ATS, the national press agency of Switzerland, which revealed the removal of the shoes on Thursday.

The two Swiss shoe retailers - Bata and Vögele - removed the shoes made in Bangladesh after tests found the presence of chromium 6 in 14 pairs of the shoes, the news agency reported.

The chemical can provoke allergies and chronic dermatitis, the report said quoting experts.

Bata and Vögele buy leather goods and footwear directly from a number of Bangladeshi companies, said Minhaz Ahmed Chowdhury, production manager of Bata Shoe Company (Bangladesh) Ltd.

“But, we [Bata Shoe Bangladesh] do not export any leather goods to the European countries,” he said. “So, we are fully confident that those shoes were not made by us.”

Manzur, also the managing director of Apex Adelchi Footwear Ltd, said he is unaware of the factories or the exact origin of the shoes.

The exporters' association is yet to communicate with the Swiss retailers to know which Bangladeshi factories made the shoes.

Chromium 6 is a toxic chemical byproduct of chromium, widely used to tan leather, Manzur said in an email reply.

Chromium 6 (Cr6) is not a substance that is present in the shoe but may be found in the leather used for the upper making or the shoe lining, he said.

There are very strict EU standards about the presence and acceptable level of Cr6. The acceptable levels of Cr6 in the EU markets are 3 mg per kilogram, he said.

"However, from past experience, we know that depending on the accuracy of the test and the test methods used, the results can vary," Manzur said.

“It does happen, during the shoe making process, due to high temperatures involved, and the level of chromium 6 can change,” he said.

Manzur urged the leather goods and footwear makers to be more careful about the use of the chemical and strictly follow the standards.

“If we wish to export, full compliance on product safety and RSL [restricted substances list] is non-negotiable and a pre-requisite,” he said.

Bata and Vögele said they withdrew the suspected models from their stores starting February 13, according to the report.

The retailers have ordered further tests and until definitive results are obtained the shoes will remain off the market, it said.

Bangladesh exported leather, leather goods and footwear worth US$765.03 million last fiscal year, while the earnings were US$446.84 million in July-January of the current fiscal year, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.


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