Brick Kilns: A Hidden Industry

Donkeys, mules and horses work in traditional brick kilns - brick-making factories - in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. It's notoriously a largely hidden industry, often unorganised and unregulated, where animals and humans endure very harsh working conditions. Brooke’s 'One Health' approach aims to tackle the negative impacts the brick kiln sector has on humans, animals and the environment across South Asia.

Mules prepare to pull carts of bricks at a kiln in India

Mules prepare to pull carts of bricks at a kiln in India

In traditional kilns, bricks are made by hand and then transported by donkeys, mules and horses. They carry many tonnes of bricks daily in packs or carts within the kilns, and to external locations, for use in the construction industry. These animals suffer from poor nutrition and other serious health and welfare issues caused by their working environment, as well as by poor husbandry and management. Extreme temperatures; lack of shade, water and rest; difficult terrain and overloading cause disease and injuries. Services, including healthcare, are scarce and labour abuses are commonplace, including low wages, child labour and bonded labour. Brick kilns are also extremely polluting to air and water, which in turns causes infection and respiratory diseases in humans and animals.

The brick kiln industry in South Asia is vast, with approximately 152,700 active kilns across the region. These kilns employ over 16 million people and 500,000 animals to make 86% of the world’s bricks (Dirty Stack, High Stakes, World Bank 2020). It is one of the most challenging work environments for people and animals alike, which is why it is often referred to as an exploitative industry (alongside coal mines).

Our Approach in Brick Kilns
A woman working in Hamza Brick Kiln in Pakistan to feed her four children

The conditions in brick kilns take a heavy toll on their human and animal workforce as well as damaging the natural environment. In order to address the complex challenges of brick kilns, Brooke has adopted a ‘One Health’ approach.

One Health is a concept that recognises the links between human, animal and environmental health and how each has an impact on the others, both positively and negatively.

This approach aims to address the impact of brick kilns across all three sectors, working with a range of partners. For example, our partner ICIMOD introduced a ‘Green Kilns’ initiative to tackle harmful kiln emissions through the implementation of new ‘clean air’ technology, such as the draught-induced zigzag kiln type, which controls the air and makes the coal burning process more efficient. After installing this technology, one kiln in Badaun, Uttah Pradesh, India reported that 90% of the bricks they now produce are 'A' grade (stronger and less porous), in contrast to 50% previously. Not only is this kiln working more efficiently, but this technology reduces coal consumption by 20% and produces significantly lower levels of it is now producing less pollutants - a win for the environment, people and animals (DAWN, 2020).

Another example is in Pakistan, where Brooke has been working with the government and the Brick Kiln Association to plant trees at kilns to address pollution and land degradation. These trees include fruit and shade species and will not only reduce carbon footprints, but also provide shade and shelter to the working animals and their owners.

Improving Welfare Through Partnerships

In 2018, Brooke formed a coalition with the Donkey Sanctuary, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), ActionAid Nepal, International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Global Fairness Initiative to improve the welfare of humans and animals working in the kilns, and to minimise carbon emissions of the brick kiln industry.

We jointly advocate for changes in kilns to protect people, animals and the environment. We support the implementation of the OIE standards for working equids; we share technical expertise and work with governments to strengthen animal health and welfare laws.

A mule pulls a cart of bricks at a kiln in Pakistan

A mule pulls a cart of bricks at a kiln in Pakistan

Supporting Animals and Communities

Brooke works through partners and local staff in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Afghanistan to make lasting improvements to animals, people and the environment. We train farriers and saddle makers to ensure that animals receive the best care and equipment possible. Not only does this improve animal welfare, but also provides skills and a source of income to the people we train.

We also work with dedicated community engagement teams that link equine owners with external human labour organisations to support access to social security and insurance, minimum wages and government welfare schemes.  

We train local vets to help them treat animals in the kilns, educate owners on preventative measures and build capacity for proper animal management. This model ensures that brick kiln communities have a local, well-trained vet who understands the context and can pass on their knowledge through community visits and workshops.

There is a connection clearly between the two: Healthy animals means healthy communities.

Graeme Cooke, Brooke Trustee

Number of brick kilns we work in

Through operations and partners, Brooke is active in 8,483 brick kilns.

India: 7,602
Pakistan: 515
Afghanistan: 321 through our partner DCA Livestock Programs
Nepal: 45 through our partner Animal Health Training and Consultancy Service (AHTCS)

An estimated 500,000 equids are working in these kilns, supporting the production of 1.3 trillion baked-clay bricks annually.