Egyptian Leather Tanners

Collection with 17 media items created by Mai Shaheen

02 May 2014 04:00

Thousands of workers in Cairo’s leather tanneries interact with dangerous chemicals that pose significant health risks. The Egyptian industry fails to provide them with adequate gear that protect them respiratory and intestinal diseases from prolonged exposure to chromium and other harmful substances. Many of the subjects are family members who have followed the professions of their parents and grandparents in Cairo.
This photo essay provides an intimate look at the filthy, poor conditions under which they work in the industrial area behind the Magra A-Oyoun wall in South Cairo, which dates to the Sultan Salah Al-Din Al-Ayubi, the founder of Ayyubid Egypt, in 1169.

There are hundreds of tanneries behind the Magra Al-Oyoun wall in south Cairo, built by Sultan Salah Al-Din Al-Ayubi, the founder of Ayyubid Egypt in 1169. Two industries coexist in the tanneries of Cairo: the production of gelatin and leather, both from the treatment of animal skins. The tanneries have been around for hundreds of years. over 500 tanneries, 160 glue factories and 350 service shops stocking chemicals, carpenters, dyes and paints are located behind the Magra Al-Oyoun wall in south Cairo. More than 20,000 workers toil in the tanneries, mostly in jobs inherited from their parents and grandparents.

Workers in the tanneries including:
Zenhom, his son Ahmed, his brother Ali and his uncle. The family members have lived there for their entire lives, and inherited the jobs from parents and grandparents. Zenhom carries the timber that the leather hangs from as it dries in the sun. His son Ahmed removes the staples from the leather after its dried. Ragab and Jamal haul bails of leather after tanning.

Leather Egypt Tanner Workers Child Labor Child Labour Children Human Interest

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

A worker sprays toxic chemicals onto the nearly-finished leather. Although the chemicals will protect the leather from the sun and the elements, the worker himself has no protection from the chemicals. He works bare handed, with nothing covering his face and arms in an enclosed space. These chemicals cause many ailments including respiratory and digestive problems.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

A worker dyes animal skins in a dusty corner. He feeds the skins into a machine powered by an exposed motor to its rear that generates a loud noise.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

A worker in a tannery removes metal clips from animal skin after it has dried in the sun. The skin has now essentially become leather and will move to factories for manufacturing of consumer goods.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Leather rugs hanging in the industrial area behind the Magra Al-Oyoun wall in South Cairo. The tannereis have been around for hundreds of years. Today, the area has over 500 tanneries, 160 glue factories and 350 service shops for chemicals, carpenters, dyes and paints. 20,000 people work in the tanneries.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Tannery workers dyeing animal skins. A young worker carries the skins on his shoulder. Another removes the skins and stacks them in a pile. Two workers load the skins into the machine. Some of the workers wear rubber boots, others work in flip flops.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Piles of animal skins before the tanning process at one of the tanneries behind Magra Al-Oyoun wall in South Cairo. This crude factory is where the tanning process begins. The workers live nearby and spend most of their days in filthy conditions, breathing in chemicals not only from the tanneries, but also from the 160 factories in the area that produce glue.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

After the workers haul the dyed skins on their backs, a “carro,” or donkey cart transports them to factories.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Ragab's slings a load of leather onto his should after the tanning process. With only a plastic tarp between him and the chemical-laced leather, Ragab works with the leather using his bare hands and breathes in its fumes. The dyed leather will move to manufacturing locations to become jackets, rugs and shoes.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Ragab's slings a load of leather onto his should after the tanning process. With only a plastic tarp between him and the chemical-laced leather, Ragab works with the leather using his bare hands and breathes in its fumes. The dyed leather will move to manufacturing locations to become jackets, rugs and shoes.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Zenhom has many responsibilities at the tannery. Here he is carrying wooden frames used for drying leather after its washed. The leather sits atop the frames to bake in the sun.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Zenhom, his son Ahmed, his brother Ali and his uncle. The family members have lived there for their entire lives, and inherited the jobs from parents. Zenhom carries the timber that the leather hangs from as it dries in the sun. Ahmed removes staples from the dry leather.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Am Ismail, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, has worked in the tanneries since he was ten years old. His father also worked in the tanneries. He never attended school. His education was learning how to work in the tanneries, where he lives.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Am Ismail, who has lived and worked in the tanneries his entire life, stands by a pile of leather after its been dyed. He wears a crude smock around his waist to protect his lower body and a cap to block the sun. He holds both the leather and a cigarette with his bare hands.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
Cairo
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Many of the tannery workers labor for long hours. They usually take their break from 2:00-3:00pm. On this day Ismail and Mahmoud still find time to joke around with one another before returning to work.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
Cairo
By Mai Shaheen
23 Apr 2013

Ragab, a tannery worker who carries leather on his back on his way to the tannery. After the tanning process, he brings the leather to Jamal, who has a donkey cart that transports leather for manufacturing.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
Cairo
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Ahmed, 12 years old, helps his father Zenhom after school. Ahmed is too small to carry leather on his back, so he removes pins from the dry leather. Ahmed want to continue his education and get a profession out of the tanneries.

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Egyptian Leather Tanners
Cairo
By Mai Shaheen
22 Apr 2013

Ahmed, 18 years old, is a tannery worker. He started to work at the tanneries when he was 12 years old and stopped attending school that same year. Ahmed says he exercises every morning before the beginning of work.
"Exercise helps me to bear the work at the tannery. Leather is very heavy especially after the tanning process when it becomes wet," he says.