Indiscriminate implementation of four controversial labor codes could exacerbate modern slavery in India

A joint statement by G7 trade ministers signaled that they will harden their stance to eradicate the use of all forms of forced labor in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities in the agricultural, solar and clothing sectors. sectors.

The COVID-19 crisis has made the situation worse than they acknowledged in their statement that around 25 million people are subjected to forced labor around the world every day. India has a lot to worry about, as the 2018 Global Slavery Index estimated that around 8 million people were living in modern slavery in the country in 2016, and the prevalence of victims was 6 , 1 per thousand people.

The statement specifically mentioned the 2019 ILO report titled “Ending Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains”, in which India was also featured. They affirmed that there is no place for forced labor in the rules-based multilateral trading system and called on all countries, multilateral institutions and businesses to work together, including with survivors of forced labor, to eradicate forced labor from global supply chains.

G7 trade ministers recognized that trade policy can be one of the important tools in a comprehensive approach to prevent, identify and eliminate forced labor in the global supply chain. They further recognized that forced labor is a global problem and that effective action should be based on international labor standards, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and international standards on responsible business conduct, including collective efforts in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations (UN), in particular International Labor Organizations (ILO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) .

It can be mentioned that the 2019 ILO report prepared jointly with the OECD, IOM and UNICEF, gave an example from India while discussing the “downward pressure on wages”, which has now reached an all-time high in over 18 months of COVID. -19 pandemic. “Strong cost and price pressures can cause suppliers to reduce labor costs in a way that increases the risk of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking,” a- he declared.

In the face of these pressures, supplier companies may seek to reduce labor costs by underpaying workers, imposing illegal deductions, imposing penalties and fines, or non-payment of wages.

The ILO report gave the example of forced labor in India’s tea industry, highlighting the links between cost pressures and forced labor. The study found that workers suffered widespread labor exploitation, including underpayment and manipulation of wages. Elements of forced labor, such as debt bondage, physical violence, threats and verbal or sexual abuse, were reported by workers. Cost pressures have been identified as a key factor in these practices.

The study found that tea plantation owners’ demand for exploited labor was driven by the low prices they were receiving for tea, relative to rising costs, which put pressure on them. lower the costs. Input costs were rising, including machinery, gasoline, diesel and labor, and margins were tight.

The report also mentions the outsourcing of labor, production quotas, outsourcing, pressure on delivery times, overtime, etc. contributing to modern slavery.

The pandemic has exacerbated all conditions of modern slavery in India, and therefore the Modi government needs to be more careful when implementing the four controversial labor codes.

The latest Global Slavery Index (GSI) also reflected the addition of forced sexual exploitation and children to modern slavery, but did not include figures on organ trafficking or the use of children. in armed conflict. GSI 2018 reported, based on data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), that most of the rescued victims reported being trafficked for forced labor, followed by exploitation. sex for the purpose of prostitution and other forms.

As for forced labor, the GSI mentions the existence of bonded labor although it is formally abolished and criminalized in India. Officers attract families and individuals largely from rural areas and send them to work in urban areas under conditions of forced labor. One such condition is debt bondage for life.

As the COVID-19 crisis and the economic downturn that followed pushed millions of people into poverty and extreme poverty, India needs to be extremely vigilant on the issue of forced labor, particularly in relation to the issue of forced labor. concerns low-income states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh, where 62% of the poorest Indians lived before the pandemic hit the country last year. The inhabitants of these states constitute the majority of migrant workers in the country. Only coverage under a social protection scheme can protect them from forced labor.

The children of Indian seasonal migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group as they face barriers to accessing education due to the isolation of the workplaces where their parents work. Therefore, they end up working alongside their parents.

Since over 90 percent of India’s total workforce is engaged in the informal sector, they are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and other abuses. The pandemic has increased their vulnerability. The current legal framework will remain insufficient unless employers who exploit the workforce are penalized and their products and services are banned from public procurement

It will be in the best interests of the workforce, the nation and its commerce in the global supply chain.

Economic recovery must be focused on work rather than the hunger for profit. Policy responses must be multidimensional and comprehensive, addressing not only forced labor itself, but also the factors underlying it, as the ILO report suggests. These policy responses may include strengthening labor inspection, addressing socio-economic vulnerability, providing fair recruitment, freedom of association and collective bargaining, and generally promoting labor. decent.

(IPA Service)

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