Like most teenagers, Bishal Thing and his brothers struggle to wake up in the morning. But they have a good excuse. When their alarm signals the start of the working day at the Bhramhayani Mata brick kiln near Kathmandu, it is one forty-five in the morning.
Sixteen year old Bishal is awake first, urging Shankar, at eight the youngest of the brothers, to get up. They struggle to pull on socks and gloves caked in mud and stagger out of their tiny shack into the freezing night to begin the gruelling task of making bricks for the next fifteen hours. The working conditions Bishal and his brothers endure are shared by tens of thousands of labourers working in brick kilns across Nepal. It is an industry built on long hours, low pay and a system of debt bondage which binds workers to the brick kilns for months, and often years. In the worst cases, it may amount to modern slavery.
While the vast majority of these bricks are made for domestic use, a recent investigation by the Guardian newspaper established that bricks from kilns like the one Bishal works at have been used in a humanitarian staging area built by the UN World Food Programme, a multi-million dollar upgrade of Kathmandu’s international airport and a new Marriott hotel in the capital.
The massive earthquake which struck Nepal on April 25 only compounded the plight of these brick workers. Immediately after the quake, most labourers rushed back to their villages, unpaid, to check on their homes, while others were forced to carrying on working against their will. In Nepal’s brick industry, exploitation and slavery remain commonplace, even in the wake of an earthquake. I (Pete Pattisson)