Organisations join forces to tackle welfare issues in brick kilns

A new report, launched at a high level regional policy event in Nepal this week, will highlight the challenges of South Asia’s brick making industry.

Donkeys loaded with bricks in India (Pic: Brooke)

Donkeys loaded with bricks in India (Pic: Brooke)

Until now this industry has been largely invisible to policy makers, and the few organisations that have been working to address the issues have primarily done so in isolation.

Bucking this trend, Brooke - Action for Working Horses and Donkeys, The Donkey Sanctuary, and the International Labour Organisation have come together to raise the visibility of the brick kilns in the region, and to start tackling the harmful and often illegal practices that affect millions of people and the working conditions of hundreds of thousands of animals every day.

The report, ‘Brick by Brick: Unveiling the full picture of South Asia’s brick kiln industry and building the blocks for change’, calls for greater attention and cross-sectoral action on the brick making sector. It will be officially launched at the event, organised by The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) and hosted by the Government of Nepal. 

The traditional brick making industry is the backbone of urban development throughout South Asia. It employs between 4.4 and 5.2 million people and over 500,000 working animals, but the work is extremely hazardous, and generates highly pollutant emissions. Traditional brick kilns also impact on the health of people, animals and the environment. 

Donkeys can often become overloaded (Pic: Brooke)

Donkeys can often become overloaded (Pic: Brooke)

Up to 68% of brick kiln workers in South Asia are estimated to be trapped in bonded or forced labour, and it's not uncommon to see children as young as five or six involved in the work, some of whom are sent to the kilns unaccompanied by their families.

Women are also heavily involved in brick making, exposing them to severe health risks in particular when pregnant. Workers’ dire working conditions and illegal practices in the kilns are made worse by the lack of knowledge about labourers’ rights, extreme poverty and a weak policy and legal environment.

Donkeys, mules and horses transport bricks within the kilns and to locations for use in the construction industry, and provide their owners and handlers with an income. Despite being a key link in the brick making value chain, they are mostly invisible in existing initiatives and policy.

In the brick kilns, animals don’t have access to nutritious food or clean water and suffer wounds from overloading, overworking, beating, inadequate harnessing and general poor care. 

Delphine Valette, Head of Advocacy & Public Affairs for Brooke, and co-author of the report said: “We are putting emphasis on how complex South Asia’s brick kiln industry is, and examining the crucial links between human, animal and the environment sectors.

"We hope the report will encourage collaboration between people who have the power to act, and start off key conversations that can lead to changing the face of the brick kiln industry.”

Mike Baker, CEO at The Donkey Sanctuary, added: “It's an incredibly valuable and important breakthrough to be able to directly link the welfare of working animals, including donkeys, with humanitarian and environmental causes.

"The evidence and experience gained from this collaborative report will help to influence the future of the brick kiln industry and make a positive and sustainable difference to those who are currently working every day in such difficult conditions.

“The Brick By Brick report will be a key tool in our work to raise the profile of these issues on an international level.”

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