The European Parliamentary Hearing on contemporary forms of slavery featured a presentation on caste and slavery in the supply chains of global companies by Ramesh Nathan, General Secretary at National Dalit Movement For Justice-NCDHR, India. Mr. Nathan pointed out the strong correlation between caste and slavery in India and urged the EU to step up action to address this in the supply chains of European companies.

The hearing was chaired by MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of the subcommittee on human rights. Ramesh Nathan focused his presentation on caste and contemporary slavery in supply chains with a specific focus on the Sumangali system in Tamil Nadu.

During his intervention, he acknowledged that the European Parliament has been at the forefront of the international community in addressing caste discrimination through various initiatives including reports and resolutions. Moving forward, he laid out concrete recommendations for EU action encouraging Members of the European Parliament to take more steps in addressing the issue of caste discrimination in global supply chains.

The presentation can be downloaded as a PDF here or watched on the archived webcast here. The recommendations he presented at the hearing were:

To the Indian Government:

  • Ratify all relevant ILO Conventions, in particular ILO Conventions with regard to freedom of association and collective bargaining & child labour and the protocol to the forced labour convention.
  • Declare that below 18 years children should be considered a child, according to UNCRC Act 1989.
  • Improve accessibility and credibility of existing grievance redressal mechanisms for labourers.
  • To incorporate UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsin its factories and mills as these guidelines are a set for States and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.

To The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  (OHCHR):

  • Recommend UN Human Rights Council to ratify the draft U.N Guidelines on Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent and hold a international Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination based on work and Descent (Caste).

To the European Commission and governments in importing EU countries: 

  • Both the German and Dutch governments have brought about innovative initiatives in which government, business and civil society cooperate to address labour rights violations in the garment supply chain: The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and the Covenant on Sustainable Garments and Textiles. Both initiatives aim to curb violations in South Indian spinning mills. We urge those initiatives to focus on implementing improvements at the core of the matter: the work floor. In addition, they should cooperate with local stakeholders with a background in labour rights in a multi-stakeholder setting
  • EU Member States and the European Commission should prioritise forced labour in the South Indian textile industry in their bilateral relations with India
  • EU Member States and the European Commission should support credible initiatives by national and State governments in India and/or multi-stakeholder initiatives that aim to improve monitoring and implementation of labour laws.
  • The European Commission should immediately move on the European Parliament’s recommendation to introduce EU legislation establishing mandatory human due diligence in business supply chains and operations, including a specific focus on modern slavery including child labur

To international buyers/brands:

  • Map the supply chain beyond the first tier and increase supply chain transparency by publishing production locations of mills, their ‘labour rights status’ (backed up by information), audits etc.
  • Conduct human rights due diligence in the full supply chain and publicly report about it
  • Increase leverage by cooperating with other buyers Include hostels in monitoring programs. The presence of a factory-run hostel is a red flagImprove current monitoring practices by involving workers’ rights organisations and trade unions, have offside workers
  • Interviews, check with workers if workers have any proof of employment, countercheck wage administration by for example checking the Provident Fund registrations at the PF office, check registration of migrant workers, check if Internal Complaints Committees are active and genuine, and stimulate participation in these committees by NGOs that have a proven track record on labour rights.
  • Support mills in improving labour conditions, and reward mills that do take serious steps for improvements as preferred suppliers, increasing procurement prices and guarantee a minimum volume of orders.
  • Support and participate in the establishment of a local, credible grievance mechanism and a local multi-stakeholder initiative.
  • Since the few successful interventions at workplace level involve local civil society organizations, brands and buyers should involve civil society organizations and trade unions in any initiative taken to address labour rights violations in spinning mills.