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The Human Cost of the Brick Industry

HZZK prioritizes human dignity in the workplace and safe work practices.

The brick industry of the developing countries is a disorganised, poorly regulated industry and requires urgent environmental and labour action from governments. There is also a critical need for change in work practices and the working conditions at kiln sites.

The brick industry employs many millions of poor workers. More than 15 million people work in India’s brick industry and millions more work across Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Major issues include – poor labour and safety regulation, millions working in slavery with the widespread use of bonded and child labour, use of antiquated highly polluting technology, very harsh work practices for men, women and children and poor air quality resulting from brick dust and high particulate emissions, notably PM 2.5 and PM10

Hundreds of thousands of pollution-intensive brick kilns operate across developing nations and are worsening global warming.

Climate-induced disasters such as persistent drought, floods and crop failures cause social disruption and force the displaced workers to search for work in brick kilns where they labour in debt-bondage.

Industry workers and families are subject to high levels of respiratory disease, black carbon (soot) and fine brick dust envelops workers, kiln sites and local communities. The brick sector impacts agriculture – local crops are contaminated, land degraded, and unsustainable levels of topsoil are removed.

Kiln sites employ family groups, adolescents and children. Some sites employ 30-300 workers, others as many as 1,500. The majority of the workers, many of whom migrate to work seasonally, toil daily in heavy manual labour and also live at sites adjoining kilns. Living conditions are rudimentary, frequently lack clean water or any sanitation. The children of brick kiln families in most instances have little or no access to education.

A system of advance payment loans and debt bind many adult workers and their families to kiln sites. Whilst there are now agencies and brick makers recognising and working to change the status quo, slavery remains an issue of major humanitarian concern throughout the brick industry of developing nations particularly in Asia.

Children working on a brick kiln