Globalisation, outsourcing by companies as well as EU trade and investment policies have diverse implications for caste-affected communities. These communities constitute the largest single group in South Asia subjected to forced and bonded labour and other forms of gross exploitation and human rights violations in the labour market.

Exploitation and human rights violations in the labour market do not appear to be diminishing in spite of the present focus on corporate social responsibility by companies, civil society and the European Union (and member states) itself. The issue of caste-based discrimination is a strong contributory factor to a range of human/labour rights violations in the workplace as well as a violation itself of the principle of non-discrimination in recruitment and employment practices.

Increasing international trade and investment in South Asia and the growing number of agreements on economic and trade relations between the EU and caste-affected countries makes it urgent to tackle the issue of caste-based discrimination in this context as well. This is pertinent for the upcoming EU-India Trade Agreement in which the – preferably legally binding – chapter on sustainable development, including labour rights, remains a contentious issue.

The EU member states like other states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, while companies themselves also have the responsibility to respect human rights. The European Union has an important role in realising this member states’ duty as well as to ensure that companies live up to this responsibility.  This duty also links up with trade and investments, an area in which the EU member states have given important powers to the European Commission and the European Council.

The European Parliament has expressed its particular concern about the situation of Dalits in relation to trade between EU and caste-affected countries, including in its resolutions on the Human Rights Situation of Dalits in India (2012) and on Caste discrimination globally (2013).

Promote elimination of caste discrimination in the corporate sector and trade relations

IDSN recommends that the European Commission, including the Delegations of the European Union in caste-affected countries encourage EU companies to combat caste-discrimination in their recruitment and employment practices as well as integrate such an approach in their policies and implementation of labour rights in their full supply chain.

To this end, the EU is encouraged to promote the use of the Ambedkar Principles and the Dalit Discrimination Check tool. The latter is developed to assist companies in ensuring compliance with human rights obligations and non-discrimination in their operations and cooperation with caste-affected countries.

The EU-India Free trade Agreement that is at present being negotiated, provides a very important opportunity to include the issue of non-discrimination, including caste-based discrimination, in the text of the agreement.

The envisaged chapter on sustainable development should include a provision on the need to combat and eradicate all forms of discrimination, including caste-based discrimination. This chapter should be binding on both parties and include a dispute settlement mechanisms as well as the engagement of civil society – including Dalit – organisations in matters regarding sustainable development.


More information

Documentation on Caste and Business and Human Rights