A new report and documentary reveals “appalling” levels of slavery in India’s brick kiln industry, and points to the payment system keeping workers in the cycle of slavery.
20 September 2017
A new report and documentary by Anti-Slavery International and its partners reveals “appalling” levels of slavery in India’s brick kiln industry, including endemic presence of debt-bondage and child slavery.
The report surveyed workers and brick kilns across Punjab, India, and found that the recruitment and payment systems underpin this cycle of slavery, trapping seasonal migrant workers in bonded labour year after year.
The report found that 96% of brick kiln moulders have taken loans and all had their wages withheld for an entire season lasting eight to ten months; whilst having to work on average fourteen hours a day in the summer months. 65% to 80% of children under fourteen are working for an average of nine hours a day in the summer months.
These practices affect a huge number of people, with at least 100,000 functioning brick kilns in India employing an estimated 23 million workers.
Sarah Mount, Anti-Slavery International’s Asia Programme Manager, said “We have found appalling levels of bonded labour and child labour in Indian brick kilns. Young children are working for nine hours a day in a dusty air filled with chemicals rather than going to school.”
Change the payment system
The report found that brick kiln workers are regularly cheated out of promised wages and argues that the recruitment and payment systems is at the heart of exploitation practices.
Workers are provided a loan before they start work, immediately going into debt. Then they are trapped in the kiln having to work for an entire season without being paid their wages, not knowing if they have worked off their debt or not. As no records are kept, at the end of the season the brick kiln owner often decides to pay less.
Brick kiln moulders are paid per piece of brick made and usually as a family, rather than each worker paid individually per day or month, with only the male head of the family being paid, whilst women not getting get paid at all.
The rate paid per piece of brick made is often below the minimum wage, and well below what a worker would earn if they were paid minimum wages on a time based system.
This system of payment also encourages child labour: in order to make at least minimum wages, families get their children to help them make more bricks.
The working and living conditions are dire. Nearly 90% of the kilns don’t have access to running water and the sites are filled with dust and other chemicals. On average entire families live in cramped rooms of 7.6 square meters.
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Time for Government to act
According to Anti-Slavery International, systemic change is needed, with Sarah Mount stating: “Often brick kiln workers are rescued from a situation of bonded labour in brick kilns in one season but then have little choice in the following season but to work in the brick kilns again.
“They have not earned proper wages in the season before, so they may easily find themselves having to take out a loan again and with their children working to help make ends meet.
“The system of payment of wages in the brick kilns must be changed to ensure this cycle of bonded and child labour is broken.”
Jai Singh, director of Volunteers for Social Justice, Anti-Slavery International’s partner organisation in the research, agrees systemic change is needed, stating: “The Government of India must ensure workers are paid minimum wages regularly, and a time-based wage. This would help reduce poverty and vulnerability of families, so there is less need for children to work, and would reduce control employers have over workers.”
“Women are invisible workers. They should be paid individually for their work on a time-based system.”
“It is also the Government of India’s obligation to urgently start ensuring brick kiln children are getting proper education to give them a chance for better future – this is the children’s rights under Indian law”.
The report argues that whilst bonded labour is illegal under Indian law and the Government of India has taken some steps to address bonded labour in recent months, they don’t go far enough and the law is often not implemented by corrupted or under-resourced officials.
Jai Singh said: “It is time that the government takes that responsibility and ends this exploitation that shouldn’t be taking place in the 21st century.
“We need to be strengthening worker protections in labour laws in addition to strengthening the bonded labour law and rehabilitation scheme.”
Anti-Slavery International director Aidan McQuade said: “The conditions that this report finds are an affront to the Constitution of India. Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution prohibit trafficking for forced labour and child labour, abuses that this report finds endemic in the brick kiln industry.”
What we do
We work with workers in both source and destination states to support the families out of debt bondage.
Key statistics from the report:
- Children make a third of the total population in the brick kilns.
- 65 to 80% of children between the ages of five to fourteen reported working in the brick kilns. They work an average of nine hours a day in the summer months and seven hours a day in winter.
- 100% of older children interviewed (over the age of fourteen) reported working at the kiln. Children in this age group work on average 12 hours a day in summer months and 10 hours a day during the winter months.
- Work in the brick kilns for children would be considered as a ‘worst form of child labour’ under international law.
- 77% of workers reported not having access to primary education for their children between 5-13 years of age.
- 84% of workers were paid a different rate to what had been agreed/promised at the beginning of the season.
- Workers reported on average fourteen hours a day in the summer months and 11 hours a day in the winter months.
- 100% of brick moulders were from traditionally marginalised classes and castes
- None of the women workers receive wages. Wages are paid to the male head of the household for the whole family. Women are not formally registered as workers and cannot access related employment benefits.
- 33% of workers reported being paid less than the minimum wage for 1000 bricks. From those workers who thought they’ve been paid a minimum wage, vast majority did not know what the minimum wage rate is.
- The workers never are paid overtime, despite routinely working 5 hours over daily legal limit.
- 87.72% of the kilns surveyed have access only to untreated ground water as drinking water, much of it polluted and sometimes not safe for drinking.
- 75.8% of all toilet facilities had no water provided to them at all.
- Worksites has a large amount of dust and other chemicals present.
- Living conditions can be cramped, with average housing dimensions for entire families being 7.6 square meters. By law, it’s required to be minimum 10 sq. meters.
- Schools are physically inaccessible. On average, it would take 40 minutes for children to walk to the nearest school.
Note to editors:
For more information and to arrange interviews please contact Anti-Slavery International’s Communications Manager Andy Wasley on 07789 936 383 or email@example.com.
The footage from the documentary is available to media organisations to edit and use, please contact Andy Wasley with specific requests.
Anti-Slavery International works to eliminate all forms of slavery throughout the world by investigating and exposing current cases of slavery, campaigning for its eradication, supporting the initiatives of local organisations to secure the freedom of those in slavery or vulnerable to it, and pressing for more effective implementation of national and international laws against slavery.
Anti-Slavery International works alongside Volunteers for Social Justice (VSJ) and other local partners to tackle bonded labour in India’s brick kilns by helping bonded workers to be freed and to obtain compensation, working with workers to come together as groups to advocate for their rights, lobbying local and national governments, as well as the brick kiln owners, to implement the law and improve working and living conditions.
Volunteers for Social Justice works to MISSION is to create a society without a system of bonded labour or slavery, without gender and caste based discrimination, where every individual has an opportunity to engage in their own and societies economic, social, cultural and political development.