Making Decent Work at Pakistan Brick Kilns a Reality

In Pakistan, where many workers and their children toil in dangerous brick kilns, the Solidarity Center, together with allies in the country, has developed a detailed roadmap for local labor departments to address bonded labor and unsafe working conditions—a program that includes incentives for employers to ensure their facilities meet decent work standards.

The Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework (described in an Urdu-language video) provides an inspection checklist to monitor decent work at a kiln along with other comprehensive tools and resources for district labor departments, which have not had the mechanisms to systematically inspect and report on labor law violations or the status of brick kiln compliance.

The framework also proposes an incentive-based model in which brick kiln employers would receive 5 percent above the market price for government-procured bricks. The price incentive will enable employers, who currently have no incentive to change long-held practices, to absorb the cost of social protection and enable them to earn extra profits for ensuring decent work environment.

Pakistan is part of the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Decent Work Country Program, and its agreement with the ILO includes addressing bonded labor in the brick kiln industry. In Pakistan and in other South Asian nations, entire families sometimes become bonded after borrowing money from someone like a brick kiln owner. They then work to repay the loan but often are unable to pay off their debt, even over many years, because their wages are so low.

In addition, the European Union in 2013 granted Pakistan Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status, allowing its products duty-free access to European markets as long as it takes affirmative action in implementing 27 international worker and human rights conventions.

Yet despite the need to comply with the Decent Work mandate and GSP Plus requirements, the Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework is the first plan to help guide brick kiln employers and district labor administrators in ensuring that bricks are manufactured in decent working conditions.

The Solidarity Center recommends that in adopting and operationalizing the program, the government initiate a two-step certification process. Government labor inspectors would first inspect and categorize kilns and submit findings to district committees, comprised of district administrators, kiln owners and nongovernmental organizations. After reviewing the findings, the committee would either certify a kiln or order the district labor department to reassess it.

“The Solidarity Center’s proposed decent work brick kiln framework offers a win-win solution for all three social partners,” says Solidarity Center Asia Region Director Tim Ryan.

“Workers will have decent working and living conditions; employers will get guaranteed business, and may receive a higher price for their products.”