Pakistan is the third largest brick producing country in South Asia, producing more than 45 billion bricks per year and there are around 18,000 brick kilns across the country. This information was shared on Wednesday during a national policy consultation on environment, human and child labour and animal welfare in Pakistan's brick kilns organised by NACG Pakistan, ILO, Brooke Pakistan and Solidar.
There are 7,966 functional brick kilns only in Punjab province, according to Labour and Human Resource Department of Punjab. The country's brick kilns largely rely on traditional or artisan technologies which use low-cost fuels including coal, local biomass, plastic, waste oil, worn out tires and other materials. The participants were informed that traditional brick kilns have a significant impact on the environment through the pollutant emissions they generate including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and the high usage of fertile topsoil which causes irreversible damages such as soil erosion, depletion of soil quality and flooding.
This in turn leads to negative consequences for agricultural production while traditional brick kilns emit black smoke containing air pollutants which are dangerous for both human and animals. Pakistani brick kilns are supported by millions of workers, adults, men, women and children. However, there are no official figures available but it is estimated that 4.5 million people work in the brick kilns.
Child and bonded labour is prevalent despite being illegal, while a 2004 survey of brick kilns in Punjab by the Federal Bureau of Statistics found that nearly 90 per cent of brick kiln workers were bonded. A research carried out by PILER in Pakistan as part of a project indicates that up to one million brick kiln workers in Pakistan are bonded, the participants of the workshop were informed.
The construction industry, including brick making, has been categorised by the ILO as dangerous and hazardous as the informality of the sector, lack of regulation and a weak legal and policy environment make workers particularly vulnerable to abusive, dangerous and harsh working conditions which affect their mental and physical health and increase their marginalisation.
The participants were also informed that a large number of brick kilns also rely on animal labour, primarily donkeys, horses and mules to transport bricks within and from the kilns. Though there are no official figures, it is estimated that there are more than 115,000 donkeys, horses and mules working in Pakistani kilns. The brick industry is largely invisible and has received little political attention, the organisers said, adding that one of the main reasons that may explain this is the informality of the sector and the largely hidden nature of their operations. Traditional brick kilns tend to be family businesses or owned by wealthy individuals and they have very limited, if any, institutional contacts. As a result, the industry is poorly understood from the supply and demand sides.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017