Indian brick workers treated ‘worse than slaves’: NGO

Indian labourers working in a brick kiln on the outskirts of Jalandhar. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2017

Indian brick workers treated ‘worse than slaves’: NGO

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indian brick workers are trapped in bonded labor and regularly cheated out of their wages, an anti-slavery group said Wednesday as it demanded government action.
A study by Anti-Slavery International in the northern state of Punjab said workers are often rescued by NGOs only to return to the kilns, needing back wages owed to them or lacking other opportunities.
There are an estimated 10 million workers toiling amid punishing heat and life-threatening pollution at tens of thousands of small-scale brick kilns in India.
The kilns have become part of the underbelly of India’s economic miracle, producing building materials for gleaming offices, factories and call centers sprouting up across the world’s seventh largest economy.
Impoverished families are often forced to involve their children in hard labor since workers are paid by the number of bricks made.
The “Invisible Chains” report found 65 to 80 percent of children under 14 working for an average of nine hours a day over the hot summer months.
“We have found appalling levels of bonded labor and child labor... young children are working for nine hours a day in a dusty air filled with chemicals rather than going to school,” Sara Mount, the group’s Asia program manager, said.
“Often brick kiln workers are rescued from a situation of bonded labor in brick kilns in one season but then have little choice in the following season but to work in the brick kilns again,” she said in the report.
Bonded labor is illegal in India but rules are regularly flouted to maximize profits with little fear of the law.
Scenes of sweaty bare-footed workers hauling heavy loads and hacking at clay show the economic benefits of India’s speedy growth are yet to reach the marginalized sections of the society.

The report is based on testimonies from families who have worked in the kilns in squalid conditions.
“We toiled day and night for five months but we were barely paid the wages,” said Nohar Bai, a 35-year-old worker.
“Together with my husband we would make some 1,400 bricks in a day. We were a group of 23 people and at night they would lock us all up in a small room. We were treated worse than slaves,” she told AFP by phone.
Rinky, a 26-year-old mother of one, said her employers owed her family 32,000 rupees ($498) — a fortune for many in a country where millions live on less than $2 a day.
“We will not go back again to work there even if it means we will have to forgo what is our rightful earning,” she said.
Tejinder Singh Dhaliwal, Punjab’s labor commissioner, denied rules were being flouted with impunity at the kilns.
“Whenever we get any complaint we act promptly. On the whole conditions are not too bad,” he told AFP.
“Even otherwise we conduct our own surveys and wherever needed we take action. I don’t think rules are being flouted.”
Figures cited in the report said nearly 90 percent of the kilns do not have access to running water and an average family lives in a cramped 7.6 square meter room at the site.
Volunteers for Social Justice, Anti-Slavery International’s partner in the research, said systemic changes were needed to overhaul the exploitative industry.
“The government must ensure workers are paid minimum wages regularly. This would help reduce poverty and vulnerability of families, so there is less need for children to work,” said Jai Singh, director of the group.
“It is time the government takes responsibility and ends this exploitation that shouldn’t be taking place in the 21st century.”

Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

Updated 16 July 2018

Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

  • Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook
  • Piracy and armed robbery against ships remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year

KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.

The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.

The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.

Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.

The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.

Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”

Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.

Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.

Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.

The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.

Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.

Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.

The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.

On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.