Bonded Labour | Brick Kiln Workers

CEC is looking at bonded labour and forced labour in India''s brick kiln industry. In its worst form bonded labour practice is an employer-employee relationship that institutionalizes and operationalises through the feudal system of debt and intergenerational bondage. However, forms of bondage are changing and are getting redefined according to the need of the emerging new societies and economies. Forced labour is an extension of bondage. Vulnerability of bonded/forced labour needs to be understood as ensemble of factors that defines the social, economic, political and cultural positioning of workers that prevent workers from entering employment avocations as free labourers. They are unable to claim and enjoy labour rights.

In global India, forced and bonded labour exists in commodity production for the Indian and global markets. Workers are controlled by the employers in lieu of an advance or delayed payment or non-payment of minimum wages and restriction on freedom of mobility. Another emerging phenomenon is hiring migrant workers who can also be controlled easily as they do not speak the same language as local workers and hence remain divided. Further, relocation of industries to rural and semi urban settings with accommodation/dormitory related to the workplace keeps them distanced from the state arms or social monitoring. All these practices amount to bondage that escapes the limited and set traditional parameters. Debt bondage, or bonded labour has been identified as an institution or practice similar to slavery.

The Indian government in 1976 adopted the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976 (BLSAA), which defines slavery largely as a debtor-creditor relationship in employment, primarily in inter-generational customary bondage. It has inherent constraints in addressing contemporary forms of bonded labour in agriculture and non-agricultural sectors as ''feudal'', ''traditional'' agrestic forms of bondage no longer exist. So far the strategy of the government and other stakeholders has been to work within a Human Right  framework addressing bondage as a worst form of Human Rights violation and as a strategy release the person from that situation. But studies of CEC have revealed  that this strategy has only enabled bondage in newer forms.

Currently CEC is looking at bonded labour and forced labour in India's brick kiln industry. Objective of the exercise is to work towards reducing poverty and vulnerability of workers in the brick kilns. This is done through through facilitating access to entitlement and benefits, improving the working conditions through continuous engagement with kiln owners and government officers by seeking the implementation of relevant legislation; releasing labourers from extreme bondage with the help of legal provisions and judicial courts as well as empowering workers by facilitating their organisations.