A Business owners’ Action Research group in Bangladesh

Business owners running small leather processing enterprises in Dhaka decided to focus on the issue of building positive intersections between informal and formal actors in the leather sector. This issue was chosen because small business owners who function on an informal basis (and supply mainly domestic markets) are hugely disadvantaged in comparison to more formally operating, export market focused leather businesses. The members of this Action Research group run their businesses in precarious ways. They frequently deliver orders without contracts in place with buyers and they rarely get payment in advance (in fact they sometimes get paid very late). They struggle with access to credit and must take the most unfavourable loans from wherever they can. They are only able to purchase the lowest quality chemicals for their processes. They frequently are forced into a long hours working culture, for themselves and their workers, in order to make what is often a very marginal profit.

The business owners generated evidence through a process of peer-to-peer reflection and discussion over a 20-month period and various discussions with the Bangladesh Tanners Association, the Bangladesh Labour Foundation and the Bangladesh Institute of Leather Technology, and others.

Meeting once a month, the eight men in this Action Research group have developed an action plan focused on expanding their options to export their products to foreign markets, supplying their products to formal businesses under proper contracts, and accessing the same quality of chemicals for leather processing used by the big tanneries. The group is also exploring options with NGOs for better access to health care services for tannery workers in informal businesses, who are not eligible to be part of tannery unions. An on-site health centre would encourage workers to get issues seen to as it is close to their workplace, and most workplaces do not have sufficient first aid kits. The group has identified a visible location for the health centre, where people gather, and they have the support of an NGO, a tannery association and a paramedic will begin work there soon.