BloodBricks campaign officially launches

13 January 2014 - 10:44am
Press release

Union Solidarity International (USi) in partnership with Prayas, Action Aid Association, War on Want and Thompsons Solicitors (Scotland) are today launching an international campaign to highlight forced, bonded and child labour in the brick kilns of India.

The launch of #BloodBricks at http://bloodbricks.org will focus on India, where trade union organisations, NGOs and human rights campaigners have been organising, educating and mobilising thousands of workers to raise wages, access public services, combat child labour and end sexual exploitation.

According to the ILO, almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. The issues of bonded labour, forced labour, child labour and infringements of domestic and international legislation are widespread in India.

Campaign Objectives:

• Pressure India State and Federal Government to enforce or amend domestic laws in relation to bonded labour, child labour, and minimum wages through Blood Bricks international campaign;
• Identify companies in breach of domestic and international laws directly and indirectly through subsidiaries and supply chains using bricks from bonded and forced labour, child labour or by workers where there are breaches of minimum wages;
• Identify legal precedents and legal gaps to tighten up domestic and international law with respect to corporations and their subsidiaries using child and forced labour in supply chains;
• Identify if individuals or workers can receive compensation and/or corporations liable for fines;
• Support efforts to organise workers in brick kilns in India;
• Identify other examples around world of similar conditions and build solidarity with workers.

Andrew Brady (USi Director):

“The scale of forced, bonded and child labour in the brick kilns of India is of epidemic proportions. British companies cannot through wilful blindness continue to ignore where the bricks are being sourced from to fuel their expansion. Not only is there a moral obligation to take responsibility for their supply chains but a legal one. Simply put cheap bricks means cheap office buildings on the back of blood bricks. This campaign is not only designed to raise awareness but to take companies to task through the courts if necessary."

Pat McGuire (Thompsons Solicitors Scotland):

“The ‘Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' makes clear the UK Government's commitment to protect human rights and sets out the clear expectations for UK companies in this area. This builds on recent changes to the Companies Act (2006) with new regulations coming into force on 1 October, which require companies to report non-financial information including disclosures on human rights where such information is necessary for an understanding of the business. We will be working with our partners in the Blood Bricks campaign to ensure companies fulfil these legal obligations and where they do we will take action

In certain circumstances the Law allows workers based in foreign countries to bring claims in the UK against UK companies. That will depend upon whether the UK company has a sufficient business connection to the company that employs the foreign worker or has sufficient knowledge of what the wrongs that employer is committing. In the context of the blood brick scandal that can mean UK companies who have off shore activities which are housed in buildings built through bonded labour conditions could be sued for damages in the UK by Indian workers. We are actively pursuing enquires on that front and hope that new disclosure requirements will assist with those investigations”.

Sudhir Katiyar (Prayas India):

“The brick industry in India is labour intensive employing up to 5 million workers according to some estimates. The industry remains completely manual with almost no mechanization because of cheap availability of labour. Most brick workers are seasonal migrant workers who migrate for six months or more with their families to kiln sites. The workers are recruited against monetary advances and then forced to work at nominal or no wages for the whole season for 12 hours or more. The horrific recent case of the hands of migrant labourers chopped off by contractor in Odisha is just the tip of the iceberg and companies operating in India must be taking measures to ensure their offices and buildings are not tainted by Blood Bricks. ”

Sandeep Chachra (Action Aid Association India):

“The brick industry in India is labour intensive employing up to 10 million workers according to some estimates. The industry remains completely manual with almost no mechanization. Most brick workers are seasonal migrant workers who migrate for six months or more with their families to kiln sites.”

“The workers mostly belong to Scheduled Castes and inhabit some of the poorest areas in the country. They constitute one of the most exploited sections amongst unorganised sector workers. The work hours are inhumanly long – up to 16 hours a day. They work for wages under very primitive working and living conditions. Physical and sexual violence is frequent at the brick kilns. It becomes very difficult to leave a kiln if workers realise that work conditions are not suitable and they want to go due to bonded labour. The Blood Bricks campaign is the latest part of our campaign to seek justice.”

John Hilary, (Executive Director, War on Want):

“British companies have a responsibility to ensure that their expansion into new markets in India does not come at the expense of workers' rights. Workers in Indian brick kilns deserve our solidarity as they struggle for a future free from bonded labour and other forms of modern slavery. The Blood Bricks campaign is a great initiative, and War on Want is proud to support it.”

Organising Results:

• Workers in the brick kilns of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh are being organised into unions. The Unions have led wage struggles that have resulted in significant wage hikes. In Gujarat, wages have gone up by up to 145 percent over a five year period. In Rajasthan, a massive workers strike led to a wage hike of up to 33 percent. Wages went up significantly in Andhra Pradesh also in areas where the unions are strong.
• Hundreds of wage disputes over last three years have been settled and more than a 1000 workers have been released from bondage in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh
• Growing awareness of the law on bonded labour
• Government provision of public services – mapping of brick kiln workers and their children in destination areas has been carried out. This data has been used as an advocacy tool to put pressure on service delivery departments to provide services like schooling for children and early childhood care for infants.

Notes:

1. Why India's brick kiln workers 'live like slaves' by Humphrey Hawksley of the BBC.
2. India brick industry: Calls to improve working conditions by the BBC.
3. Blood bricks: how India's urban boom is built on slave labour in The Guardian.

For further information contact Andrew Brady (andrew.brady@unitetheunion.org) (mobile: 07810 157 922)

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