Article

Working in partnership to improve working conditions

Brick kilns and coal mines are some of the worst working conditions in the sub-continent, many of the workers are part of a bonded labour force working to pay back a debt so high that many of them and their families may live and die on the kilns.

| 5 min read

Although the industry across South Asia is not mechanised yet, there are a few initiatives where they have moved to a cleaner, less labour-intensive model of producing bricks. But the vast majority of these kilns and coal mines involve people with a working animal (horses, donkeys or mules) who are doing the back-breaking work of moulding the bricks (often children are involved in this part), loading the bricks on the animals (bonded labour force) and then carrying the bricks to the kilns to be put in a hot oven. This all happens in a climate where temperatures can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.

I was recently in Pakistan visiting some of the brick kilns and coal mines we work in. As an advocate for animal welfare, it was difficult to see so many animals struggling to work in some of the most difficult conditions. In one of the coal mines we visited, the animals had just finished their day of work and I saw a donkey lying in the shade absolutely heaving, struggling for breath.

When I asked a colleague of mine what the cause of this condition was, they responded saying it was chronic respiratory issues that meant the animal was experiencing these asthma-like symptoms and because the people there could not afford (in time or money) to take the animal for regular veterinary check-ups. This is where our local, in-country staff stepped in.

Brooke trains animal health workers, owners and community members to improve the health and welfare of working animals around the world. This means the people who depend on these animals can support good welfare which will lead to a better life for the animals and the people.
In the coal mines and brick kilns of South Asia, we see the interdependencies between people, working animals and the environment quite starkly. Some of the poorest people work in these industries and the levels of poverty are only exacerbated if their animals are injured or die.

In the brick-kiln sector, a huge issue is bonded labour, where people who took out a loan from the brick-kiln owner are then asked to work to pay it back. The loans and the interest is so high that many often spend their whole life working on the kilns to try and repay the loans. The workers also have a quota to reach which provides an incentive for them to overload the carts of the horses and donkeys that carry the bricks from the moulding area to the ovens to be baked before being transported for sale.

Overloading animals causes lameness and eventual collapse of the animal from exhaustion. In many cases, at the end of the brick-kiln season animals collapse, unable to stand on their feet, and are left to die. This is not just a terrible outcome for the animal but also for the owner as with the lameness or death of an animal they have to take out another loan to buy or rent another donkey, adding to their debt. This means the owner also continues living in these challenging conditions until the debt is paid, sometimes the debt is so high that generations end up living, working and dying on the kilns whilst trying to pay back this debt.

The brick kilns and coal mines are a challenging environment for all involved. The people in the brick kilns and coal mines have respiratory problems too, due to the amount of pollution and toxic fumes released on-site. These sites also lack basic facilities, such as access to clean water, sanitation, nutritious food and medical care.

To tackle some of the root issues of the current situation in coal mines and brick kilns, Brooke has set up a regional consortium with other human development and environmental organisations so that we are each using our areas of expertise (ours being animal health and welfare) to tackle the problem holistically.

Some governments have already acknowledged the pollution caused by these workspaces and have announced plans to phase out the brick kilns. But Brooke is working with organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIVEC) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to ensure better standards and practices for animals, people and the environment. The consortium works with governments, organisations and the brick kiln owners association to bring about lasting change.

In light of the current Covid-19 outbreak, strengthening animal health systems has become a priority for Brooke, as the initial outbreak was linked to poor health, welfare and handling of wild animals. We have a strong track record of working in partnership with other organisations to ensure the link between animals, humans and the environment is acknowledged and the systems that they operate in are improved.

For more information or to discuss Brooke’s work, please call 020 7653 5832.


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Working in partnership to improve working conditions

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