The Toxic Price of Leather in India

View on The Global Environmental Justice site

This film was selected by  Rosemary Carbine, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Whittier College  

Why I selected this film
Although this film has little religious studies content (except for a brief reference to the Hindu caste system and to the Muslim minority in India), I chose it because it explores an unregulated industry’s effects on ecological and public health as well as on Hindu sacred sites and activities. It also offers religious studies students an opportunity to do independent research into how both Hindu and Muslim religious leaders, primarily in marginalized communities, are responding to this industry’s effects.

Teacher's guide    
Please see the guide for maps, background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities.

This short film showcases some of the ecological, social, and public health crises resulting from the thriving leather industry in the leading leather-producing city of Kanpur, located in Uttar Pradesh on the Ganges River in northern India. Although revered as sacred waters and used for both religious rituals as well as meeting daily drinking water and washing needs, the Ganges River ecology and its connected waterways in this region are now highly polluted with toxic waste water from the tanneries. Chromium, lead, and arsenic have polluted the waters and thus poisoned the surrounding farmlands, causing public health crises such as cancers, mental health and child development issues, and skin diseases – with no government regulation or response.

Environmental Justice Focus
The [leather industry’s] success comes at great environmental and social cost. Pollution from the tanneries is destroying the ecology of the local Ganges River and scarring residents in the form of life-threatening illnesses…. [Ganges’] water is channeled onto local farmland, poisoning the soil, entering the food chain, and accumulating in local ecosystems. At greatest risk are the people who work in the tanneries and farmers who work daily with the toxic and highly acidic water. Local residents suffer an array of health troubles as a result of the bioaccumulation of dangerous toxins over decades.
-- Excerpted from the Pulitzer Center website

"The Toxic Price of Leather presents a very human story about the ramifications of widespread consumerism and those wounded in its never-ending appetite." - Jenna Garrett, May 16, 2014 

"I absolutely love hand-crafted leather goods and up until now it’s been that same admiration for the end product that’s quite frankly obstructed me from even considering as a whole what the process of turning raw-skin into leather looks like... Sean Gallagher sheds light on the extreme pollution the tanneries have had on the citizens of Kanpur. Such an eye-opener." Jorge Quinteros

"Pollution in India is a hidden problem with catastrophic consequences affecting rural and urban areas. Chromium contamination, lead pollution and pesticide poisoning have left a toxic trail." --The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting


Main credits

Gallagher, Sean (film director)
Gallagher, Sean (film producer)

Other credits

Music, Kevin MacLeod.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Environmental Anthropology
Environmental Education
Environmental Health
Environmental Justice
Environmental Law
Environmental Policy
Global Issues
Health and Health Care
Hinduism, Islam
Human Rights
Labour Studies
Occupational Health and Safety
Toxic Chemicals


"The Toxic Price of Leather in India", Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Sean Gallagher, Kanpur, Ganges River, tanneries, bioaccumulation, chromium, lead, arsenic, asthma, fashion industry, photojournalism, toxic chemicals, Sonalal Yadav, Jaiswal, Rakesh, farming cooperative, Javad Akter, Kanpur, Utar Pradesh; "The Toxic Price of Leather in India "; Global Environmental Justice

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