By Deborah Andrews
Prior to the April 2015 earthquake, Nepal was in the midst of a construction boom that was struggling to keep up with the rapidly increasing population and urbanization trends. After the earthquake, the need to rebuild further increased the demand for bricks. For workers on Nepal’s kilns, the brick industry played a much needed role as a source of income for unskilled labor, although the industry has been characterized by exploitative employment practices.
The Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) with its partners – GoodWeave International, Brick Clean Group Nepal (BCN) and Humanity United (HU) – recognized the importance of the sector and saw an opportunity to create incentives based partnerships to bring improvements to an informal, migrant, working population with little government representation or oversight. A project named ‘Better Brick Nepal (BBN)’ is paving the way for nationwide change throughout the brick kiln industry.
Here are the top 10 facts you need to know:
- The number of kilns currently operating in Nepal is thought to be between 1,200 and 3,000 –with a large number of unregistered kilns. Many kilns exist on the periphery of communities where there is little government oversight, community organization or worker association representation which leaves the workers wide open to exploitative practices.
- Approximately 250,000 people are thought to work annually in kilns throughout Nepal, of that as many as 60,000 are children. Brick workers are largely an unskilled, migrant population. Most are migrating from within Nepal, but some are from northern India, resulting in many children living temporarily in a community which speaks a different language to their own and being part of a school system which is completely different and non-transferable – if the school is willing to take them in at all. A number of educational deficits take place.
- It is hard to say the exact numbers working in bonded labor, but most receive cash in advance of the brick season and then arrive several months later to work off their debt. Some workers are able to pay off their debt and earn money each season, but others cannot – due to the size of the advance and/or the wages they are earning – and return home still in debt and must return the following season. Most workers are paid by the number of bricks they produce and often involve their children in the production of bricks, working in hazardous conditions, to help work of their debt faster which results.
- While bricks are produced for the domestic market, there is a large international presence in Nepal’s economy. For example, many domestic building projects are funded by international NGOs, bi-laterals or multilaterals, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). These international players have a vested interest in purchasing a brick which carries an assurance of being produced in a humane and ethical environment. In creating the BBN Standard, GFI and its partners have created a product to meet that need.
- Since 2002, GFI has partnered with hundreds of marginalized working communities globally to promote a more equitable, sustainable approach to economic development for the world’s working poor by advancing fair wages, equal access to markets and balanced public policy to generate opportunity and end the cycle of poverty.
- The BBN initiative was set up in 2014 to create incentives for good social practices on kilns and choices for consumers. Four organizations have partnered to create the initiative: the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), the Brick Clean Group Nepal (BCN), GoodWeave International (GWI), and Humanity United (HU). BBN is currently working with 22 kilns, with the hope of extending to 50 whilst still in their pilot phase.
- The BBN Standard has been devised to set measurable and verifiable criteria addressing child labour, forced/bonded labour, and decent working conditions (including wages, working hours, health and safety, and disciplinary practices). The BBN Standard covers the following 5 areas:
- No child labor is allowed
- No forced or bonded labor is allowed
- Remuneration and working hours are regulated according to standard criteria
- Workplace safety and health are regulated according to standard criteria
- No harsh or inhumane treatment
Each of these principles contains a number of compliance and progress criteria. For further details see this piece at the Global Fairness Initiative.
- A three tiered graduation system has been developed for kilns, where investment is escalated, following measurable change. A kiln begins as an ‘Applicant Kiln’, progressing to becoming a ‘Member Kiln’ once they have eliminated child labor from their workforce and then ultimately graduating to being a ‘Certified Kiln’. At Certification stage (3rd tier) there is no bonded or child labor allowed, remuneration and working hours are heavily regulated and monitored and there is no harsh or inhumane treatment. By working to improve conditions for kiln workers and their children, kiln owners receive incremental technical (financial and operational) assistance enabling them to reduce costs, increase productivity and profits and access new high value markets, without adverse effects on their workforce.
- Under the ILO Convention 138 and Nepal’s Child Labour Act of 2000, employment of children less than 14 years of age is prohibited. Nepal labour law and ILO Conventions 182 and 90 also address the employment of young workers, age 14-18 and dictate the type of tasks they may engage in, as well as their working hours. Principle 1 requirements strictly prohibit the employment of children under the age of 14 and limit the tasks of young workers.
- To date, kiln owners have not had the resources available (or the incentives) to pay attention to the specific needs of the children of kiln workers and there has been virtually no access to education or child care for them. According to BBN Certification criteria, where workers are accompanied by children age 6-14, kiln owners must provided ‘facilities or linkages’ to schools appropriate to the age and need of the child. Furthermore, where kiln workers are accompanied by children under age 6, kiln owners must provide access to a nursery or child development center. BBN are now working with schools so that they are able to absorb a large influx of children mid-year and accommodate their needs. By providing access to education, the children are removed from the labor force (and therefore the opportunity of exploitation) by positive means. Increasing the likelihood of annually consistent education dramatically raises the probability of the cycle of poverty being broken in these children’s lives.