Brick Industry


India is one of the most populous countries in the world. Around 1.2 billion people live in India. Despite the big effort the country has made to reduce poverty, it still has a long shadow over the population. According to the World Bank, from 2004 to 2010 poverty in India has been reduced by 7.4%. A large percentage of the Indian population is still living in inhuman and precarious conditions. The problem becomes worse when the needs of the people come along with cultural reasons such as costumes, caste discrimination and religious beliefs and practice.

Covering the brick industry is notoriously difficult. Especially because of the access to the brick production places that are based in desolate areas. One does not need to spend long time to see that this is an industry of slavery.

Slavery relates to slave trade or situations that can be similar such as people trafficking, forced prostitution, forced labour and debt bondage. However, there is a new concept called contemporary slavery or modern slavery. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights three elements should be evaluated to determine if a person is victim of modern slavery: 1) the degree of the restriction of one’s freedom of movement: 2) the degree of control one can keep of his/her personal belongings: 3) the existence of informed consent and a full understanding of the nature of the relationship between this person and the others parties involved.

Those three elements exposed by the United Nations are key points. However, in practice things can be very different and those rules are difficult to apply. In the brick industry the owners build small houses for the workers who live and work in the same place. Entire families labour day and night. One person will receive 1.000 rupees (around USD$ 16) after making 2.000 bricks (it takes around five days to make that amount of bricks). In the market, the companies will sell each brick for around 3 rupees (USD$ 0.048). This means that 2000 bricks will cost 6.000 rupees (Around USD$ 97).

There are no labour security standards in the process of making bricks. Big ovens cook thousands of bricks. Workers face extremely high temperatures and there are no security measures in place to protect the employees.

We are not talking about forced labour, which is obtained from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which this person has not offered herself/himself voluntarily. However, we can talk about bonded labour that takes place when economic penalties are linked to force the labour. Bonded labour is a sort of patronage in which the minimum is barely enough to cover the living costs of the employee and the relation between the employer and the employee is often characterized by unfixed and exploitative payment agreements with benefit the employer. Not all bonded labour is forced, but most forced labour practices have a bonded nature, regardless of whether the work involves children or adults.

Adults and children from the groups known as the “untouchables” make up the majority of those trapped in bonded labour. The reasons for bonded labour in India are several: widespread poverty, inequality, caste-based discrimination and lack of education.

We are talking about chronic poverty, which refers to those people who are in a vicious circle that does not allow them to escape from poverty. It passes from generation to generation. Chronically poor people accept any work available under any conditions or terms.

Here are some of the pictures I took of the brick industry:

Written by Andy VC

“Made in the Earth!”

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