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Swiss retailers withdraw shoes over toxic issues
Photo from Human Rights Watch's "Toxic Tanneries" report.

Swiss retailers withdraw shoes over toxic issues

Published: 21 Feb 2013 22:47 GMT+01:00
Updated: 12 Mar 2013 16:11 GMT+01:00

Two Swiss shoe retailers, Bata and Vögele, have removed various models of shoes from their stores after tests found they contained a cancer-causing chemical.

The retailers acted after tests conducted for a consumer TV show to be aired on Friday by RSI, the Italian-language Swiss broadcaster, found the presence of chromium 6 in 14 pairs of shoes, the ATS news agency reported on Thursday.

The tests were conducted on 21 pairs of shoes on sale in Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton, for RSI’s “Patti chiari” programme.

The results come after a French-language TV consumer programme, broadcast in Switzerland last month, also raised concerns about the presence of chromium 6 in shoes and other leather goods produced in Bangladesh. [See Bata's response below]
 
Chromium 6 is a toxic chemical byproduct of chromium, widely used to tan leather.

In shoes, the chemical can provoke allergies and chronic dermatitis, according to experts.

Bata and Vögele said they withdrew the suspect models from their stores starting on February 13th, ATS reported.

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

Both shoe companies make a point on their websites of highlighting codes of ethics, including measures to ensure that footwear is produced in a safe manner with good working conditions for employees.

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO with offices in Geneva and Zurich, issued a critical report in October 2012 about Bangladesh’s “toxic tanneries”.

Most of them are located in the city of Hazaribagh, home to 150 tanneries employing 8,000 to 12,000 people, including children as young as seven and eight, the report says.

In peak periods up to 15,000 people can be employed in a highly polluting industry where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals that cause skin diseases and other illnesses, the NGO said.

Chromium 6 when inhaled can cause lung cancer, while contact with the chemical can cause dermatitis and skin ulcers, Human Rights Watch said.

RESPONSE FROM BATA

Several days after this article appeared, Chris H. Mann, communications executive for Bata Brands in Lausanne, sent The Local the following message:

"Regarding the recent “cases” of Chrome 6 found in Bata shoes in Switzerland: The TV station only mentioned that traces of Chrome 6 were found without stating the amount.

"Bata is committed to the highest standards for qualitative manufacturing processes and requires from its suppliers to comply with the REACH Regulation of 3mg/kg for Chrome 6.
 
"All products supplied within Europe must be compliant with this European Community Regulation.
 
"Furthermore, the Bata Environment, Health & Safety Specifications Policy sets standards within the footwear industry.
 
"I would like to submit the tests, including the ones from the TV stations.
 
"Bata complies with the REACH Regulation.
 
"Second, none of these shoes are coming from Bangladesh. They were manufactured in Italy, China/Vietnam and Bulgaria."

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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