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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 working conditions at kiln sites.

The brick industry employs many millions of poor workers. (e.g. India estimates 15 million people).

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

Industry workers and families are subject to high levels of respiratory disease, black carbon (soot) and fine brick dust envelops workers, at kilns. There are further negative impacts on 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 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 diligently to change the status quo, slavery remains of great concern and remains a large issue within the brick industry particularly in India, Bangladesh , Pakistan and Nepal.

Children working on a brick kiln