NGO says Indian brick workers are treated ‘worse than slaves’

Source:AFP Published: 2017/9/20 22:38:40

Millions of Indian workers are trapped in a life of bonded labor and are regularly cheated out of their wages, an anti-­slavery group said on Wednesday as it demanded government action.

A study by Anti-Slavery ­International in the northern state of Punjab reported that brick workers are often rescued by NGOs only to return to the kilns because of back wages still owed to them or a lack of other opportunities.

There are an estimated 10 million workers toiling amid punishing heat and life-threatening pollution, at tens of thousands of small-scale brick kilns across India.

The kilns are now a part of the underbelly of India's economic miracle, producing building materials for gleaming offices, factories and with phone centers sprouting up across the world's seventh largest economy.

Impoverished families are often forced to involve their children in the hard labor since workers are paid by the number of bricks they make.

The ASI "Invisible Chains" report found 65 to 80 percent of children under 14 working for an average of nine hours a day over the hot summer months.

"We have found appalling levels of bonded labor and child labor ... young children working for nine hours a day in dusty air filled with chemicals rather than going to school," said Sara Mount, the group's Asia program manager.

Mount went on to say in the report, "Often brick kiln workers are rescued from a situation of bonded labor in kilns, in one season, but then have little choice  the following season but to work in the  same kilns again."

Bonded labor is illegal in India but rules are regularly flouted to maximize profits with little fear of the law, while scenes of sweaty bare-footed workers hauling heavy loads and hacking at clay still show that the economic benefits of India's speedy growth are yet to reach the marginalized parts of the society.

The report is based on testimonies from families who have worked in the kilns in squalid conditions.

Figures cited in the report showed nearly 90 percent of the kilns not having access to running water and average families living in a cramped 7.6-square-meter room at the site.




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