Brooke, The Donkey Sanctuary and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) joined forces to produce ‘Brick by Brick: Unveiling the full picture of South Asia’s brick kiln industry and building the blocks for change’. The report was unveiled at a high level regional policy event in Nepal and calls attention to the brick production industry which, until now, was largely invisible to policy makers. With brick production currently the backbone of urban development throughout South Asia the findings highlighted how unregulated and illegal practises were putting millions of working horses, donkeys and mules as well as their owners at extreme risk from both lack of safety measures and high pollutant emissions.
Brooke’s advocacy work aims to tackle these issues head on. We organised an important meeting at the Houses of Parliament in the run up to Brick Kiln Week, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for India. It was hosted by Virendra Sharma MP who reflected on his memories of the brick kiln near the village he grew up in and noted how working with Brooke on this issue had made him think about the way that donkeys and workers were treated in a way he hadn’t before. Guest speakers from Brooke India – Dr Dinesh Mohite and AHTCS Nepal – Dr Nabin Paudel, spoke about where we have projects in the brick kilns. They gave a first-hand account of the role of working animals in traditional brick production. MPs, representatives from NGOs and public sector including the Department for International Development and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs attended, as well as our Patron Alastair Stewart. A discussion followed the presentations, centring on the impact that poor animal health and welfare has on the livelihoods of the millions of people involved in traditional brick making. The team kept supporters informed via social media opening up the conversation to a wider audience and making public significant arguments from the speakers and attendees. Virendra Sharma MP pledged to take the issue forward in the House of Commons, while requesting Lord Kilclooney, who was present, to take it forward in the House of Lords.
The Brooke team travelled to Pakistan to meet those affected by the poor working standards of the brick kiln industry. It was clear life was difficult in the kilns, with temperatures of over 50C, the air thick with dust, and long days without refreshment. However, the benefits of our work brought welcome positive stories.
We met Muhammad Arshad who owns 15 year old stallion, Moti, and was recently made a Brooke Community Change agent after field workers identified him as being particularly passionate about animal welfare. He helps share Brooke’s vision with his community members and, after receiving training from the charity’s vets, is able to treat and prevent common injuries and ailments.
A further promising story from the field came from 21 year old Shehid Rashaad who had just purchased a stallion who showed a very poor body condition score, he had harness wounds on his withers and tail, as well as lip lesions. Shehid, who attends Brooke’s community engagement sessions, was able to recognise the animal’s suffering and get the appropriate treatment for his donkey. It is tales such as these that measure and highlight the importance of Brooke’s work in educating owners and their communities on equine welfare.
Brick Kiln week culminated with a two day conference organised by The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) and hosted by the Government of Nepal. The conference, where the report was launched, brought together government representatives and stakeholders and allowed Brooke to bring the issues associated with traditional brick production to the attention of influential state leaders. Dr Dil Peeling, Brooke’s Director of Animal Welfare and Sustainability, presented the report to the conference, explaining that if government policy makers push for mandatory improvements in the brick kilns, the kiln owners will have to act and improve life for animals working in the field.
Initial responses from the conference were promising. The stakeholders committed to a series of national workshops designed to put concrete measures in place to help alleviate the immediate suffering of animals working in brick kilns. This is the first important step in reforming and regulating the industry. Brooke teams will stay in the field, working with the animals and their owners every day to ensure these demands are being met in practise, leading to a positive change for the working equines and their owners alike.