Bonded labourers in South Asia are predominantly Dalits, also known as ‘untouchables’. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery highlights this in her report about forced and bonded labour, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 12th session in September.

The links between the social hierarchies of caste and bonded labour leaves Dalits, tribal groups, women and children as the main targets of exploitation in South Asia. Anti Slavery International estimatesthat up to 90% of bonded labourers are recruited from Dalit communities. Similar forms of caste-based slavery also exist in many African countries. UN treaty bodies have expressed grave concern about the persistence of bonded labour in India and Pakistan, and caste-based slavery in Mauritania amongst others.

In her annual report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, refers to these links stating that “ILO research shows a clear link in Asian countries between forced labour and long-standing patterns of discrimination. In India, the overwhelming majority of bonded labour victims in agriculture, brick making, mining and other sectors are from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” (A/HRC/12/21).

The Special Rapporteur will present this report to the Human Rights Council at its 12th session in September 2009. On this occasion a public meeting on ‘debt bondage’ is organised by Anti-Slavery International and Franciscans International in Geneva on 16 September (1-3 pm).

Given the scope of this human rights violation, the Special Rapporteur is encouraged to undertake a thematic study on this link and include recommendations on action to be taken by affected governments to effectively eliminate this practice. The draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent propose specific measures to be taken to prevent and address this violation.

A key issue paper explaining the correlation between caste and bonded labour is now available on IDSN’s website with links to key resources and relevant campaigns.