With the booming population growth and urbanization in Nepal, construction ranked as the third largest economic sector in the country in 2006 and continues to grow. The high demand for building materials has fueled a demand for cheap labor and a lack of incentives for clean or socially responsible brick production. The estimated 200 brick factories in the Kathmandu Valley are also the primary source of pollution in the region.
Although work conditions are inhumane, the brick industry provides jobs to thousands of unskilled laborers. Over 175,000 workers, of whom as many as 60,000 are children, labor in unhealthy and unsafe conditions in Nepal’s brick kilns. Brick workers are some of the most marginalized of unskilled workers, often bonded by debt to exploitive labor brokers, and working at wages insufficient to pay off “recruiter” advances. The informal nature of the industry, which operates on the periphery of communities and with little government oversight, has served to entrench exploitive labor practices such as bonded and child labor. The sector is dominated by migrant and seasonal laborers who live on the kilns during the brick season and have almost no link to local government, community organizations, or representation by worker associations. Unrepresented, unregulated, and for the most part unwanted, brick kiln workers have seen little progress on social, economic, or human rights issues; but with few viable income alternatives they lack the leverage to improve their working conditions or pay.
The goal of Better Brick Nepal (BBN) is to address labor and environmental challenges in the brick kiln industry. While previous programs have raised awareness of these issues, BBN aims to change the incentives within the industry. BBN seeks to create a market preference for a “better brick” such that buyers of these bricks – including international agencies, construction firms and end-consumers – are assured of more ethical and high quality production. At the same time, the kilns benefit from technical assistance and access to new high value markets.
BBN started in early 2014 by building relationships with five pilot kilns that are interested in furthering the aims of the project, creating a certifiable Standard on child labor, bonded labor and decent working conditions and developing plans for kilns to comply. Participating kilns will receive technical assistance to improve working conditions, boost production efficiency and raise product quality, as well as make linkages to potential markets. Over time, the goal is for kilns that meet the BBN Standard to achieve business benefits, and to foster needed changes in the brick industry as a whole.
Country Director, Nepal
Program Director, Nepal