Working conditions and illegal practices

Organizations join forces to tackle invisibility of South Asia’s brick kilns

Brick by Brick report highlights working conditions and practices affecting millions of people and hundreds of thousands of animals in the industry every day.

Press release | Kathmandu, Nepal | 26 January 2017
KATHMANDU (ILO News) – A new report, launched at a high level regional policy event in Nepal, 26-27 January 2017, for the first time highlights the challenges of  South Asia’s brick making industry by looking at human labour, working animal welfare, and the environment together. Until now this industry has been largely invisible to policy makers, and the few organizations 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 Organization 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.

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. The report was officially launched at the event, organized 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. 

Up to 68 per cent of brick kiln workers in South Asia are estimated to be trapped in bonded or forced labour, and it is 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’ harsh 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.

“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,” said Delphine Valette, Head of Advocacy & Public Affairs for Brooke, and co-author of the report.

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

“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,” he added.

According to Richard Howard, ILO Nepal Director, “the report highlights the numerous challenges of ensuring decent work for all workers in the brick kiln industry, particularly in respect to forced labour and child labour.  Despite these challenges, there are opportunities to improve routine monitoring and inspection of the industry and support workers to organize and negotiate for better working conditions and the elimination of child and forced labour.  The SAIEVAC meeting is an important step in this direction.”

The high level policy event, organized by The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) and hosted by the government of Nepal, took place in Pokhara and brought together governments, trade unions, representatives from international non-government organizations (INGOs) and the private sector, to discuss the issues and secure commitments for action from national, regional and global decision makers. 

It concluded with a statement of intent from SAIEVAC government representatives and ministries from livestock and environment, on the actions they will take to make the brick industry a priority.

For more information, case studies and photographs:

The Donkey Sanctuary
0207 653 5843
0782 621 2728
Suzi Cretney or Marianne Brown
01395 573142 or 07970 927778

Brooke – Jamie Whear
0207 653 5843
0782 621 2728

International Labour Organization (ILO)
Richard Howard
977 1 555 5777

Notes to Editors:

About Brooke

Brooke is an international charity that protects and improves the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules which give people in the developing world the opportunity to work their way out of poverty.  Over 100 million of these animals are the backbone of developing communities and their best means of making a living. Without healthy working horses, donkeys and mules, around 600 million people wouldn’t be able to put food on their tables, send their children to school or build better futures for themselves and their families.

Brooke delivers significant and lasting change, even in some of the world’s most challenging areas. We use our expertise to work with owners, communities, service providers, governments and international organizations. Operating in 11 different countries, and funding projects in four others,  Brooke now reaches over two million working horses, donkeys and mules each year.

Brooke was set up in 1934 by Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British cavalry officer, who travelled to Cairo in Egypt in 1930 to seek out the abandoned war horses of the First World War. She set up the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, which later became Brooke.

Facebook: thebrookecharity
Twitter: @thebrooke
Instagram @thebrookecharity

About the International Labour Organization (ILO)

Founded in 1919, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace.

Only tripartite U.N. agency, the ILO brings together governments, employers and workers representatives of 187 member states to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. The ILO's Decent Work agenda helps advance the economic and working conditions that give all workers, employers and governments a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.

The ILO implements programmes for the progressive elimination of child labour and forced labour worldwide. It has worked to achieve this in several ways: through country-based programmes which promote policy reform, build institutional capacity, changing social attitudes and promote ratification and effective implementation of ILO child labour Conventions. Complementary to this direct action throughout has been substantial in-depth statistical and qualitative research, policy and legal analysis, programme evaluation and child labour monitoring, which have permitted the accumulation of vast knowledge base of statistical data and methodologies, thematic studies, good practices, guidelines and training materials.

Facebook: ilo.nepal
Twitter: ILO_nepal

About The Donkey Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded by the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen M.B.E. in 1969.  We support projects to alleviate the suffering of donkeys in 35 countries worldwide, including sanctuaries across Europe, where more than 18,800 donkeys and mules have been cared for, and major projects in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Mexico, where donkey welfare is improved through community education and veterinary work. We also provide donkey assisted interaction sessions for vulnerable children and adults and carry out visits to care homes in the local community from our centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth.

For further information
Telephone: 01395 578222
Website: or visit the charity’s headquarters near Sidmouth in Devon (open 365 days/free admission)
Keep in touch at Facebook: TheDonkeySanctuary or Twitter: @DonkeySanctuary