Brick Field Workers

Bangladesh is situated on the deltas of several large rivers passing into the Bay of Bengal. The country’s location on this alluvial plain means there is little natural rock available for use in construction, necessitating use of bricks as the primary material for building. Bricks are used both directly and broken up into coarse aggregate for the production of concrete. To supply this need there are approximately 5000 privately operated brick kilns within Bangladesh, including 1000 around the capital, Dhaka. Unfortunately, brick kilns have severe negative consequences for health and the environment, across local and global scales. The kilns emit large quantities of environmental pollutants into the atmosphere causing harmful impact on agricultural yields, climate and health.

Nearly one million people of brick fields work for 12-14 hours a day, six days a week, lacking basic human rights and access to social security. Many of them are also tortured and sexually harassed. In addition, the living condition is not even up to the mark as workers have to live in makeshift huts during the brick manufacturing process. They lack proper hygiene and sanitation system.

Apart from that, There is a high prevalence of employing child workers in the brick manufacturing process. These children lived in the brick fields and were mostly engaged in carrying raw bricks to the kilns. They earned 100 BDT only only after carrying 1,000 bricks. Child labour is rampant in brick kilns, considered one of the most unsafe and hazardous workplaces. According to a 2014 study conducted by the ILO titled “Health hazards of child labour in brick kilns of Bangladesh”, 86 percent of the child workers who participated in the study, work for more than eight hours in a day. 36 percent of them work for more than 10 hours. More than half of the child workers stated that they have to work seven days a week.

The process of manufacturing bricks from clay involves preparation of clay, molding and then drying and burning of bricks. The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that brick kilns, many of which use low-grade coal, emit toxic fumes containing large amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and oxides of Sulphur which are extremely harmful to the eyes, lungs and throat. Moreover, long working hours under the scorching sun in the brickfields, massive accumulation of dust, the risk of falling from the trucks and piles of bricks, and carrying excessive loads pose serious health hazards for the workers.

There is thus the need to adopt environment-friendly technologies in the country’s brick making sector. The popular and widely accepted technology in this regard is smokeless, energy efficient Hybrid Hoffman Kiln (HHF). It has been gathered that the HHF brick kilns can burn most of the fuel used during firing. This also results in much less energy use and a considerable cut in production costs. The most notable aspect of the technology is that it dries the bricks by directing hot air into the tunnel from the kiln, which blocks carbon emissions.

In view of the wide acceptance of the technology in advanced countries chiefly because of its emission preventing device, Bangladesh should have opted for it long back. The cost of the technology is reportedly high. But keeping in view its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, high scale of production and above all emission-free mechanism, the government may gradually phase out the traditional kilns, and provide necessary support by way of soft-term financing to encourage the green technology. Technical innovation can mitigate some of the negative consequences of brick production, but complex geographical, social, economic, and political factors currently impede adoption of technologically improved kilns.