The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the tripartite UN agency that brings together governments, employers and workers of its member states in common action to promote decent work throughout the world.

Previous cases and communications in the ILO system have illustrated that the ILO regards caste-based discrimination as falling under the category “social origin”.

In its 2011 Global Report the ILO established that caste-based discrimination is most widespread in the case of the Dalit population in South Asia. The discrimination includes limited access to certain types of jobs, education and lower wages. Asia is the region with the highest absolute number of forced labourers in the world – 11,7 mio persons according to a 2012 ILO report. While it is uncertain how many of these come from a lower caste background, the ILO estimates that the incidence of bonded labour remains particularly severe among Dalits and indigenous peoples in Asia.

ILO project against manual scavenging

Promotion of equality at work in India is a “good practice” case implemented by the ILO in five Indian states. The aim of the practice is to implement international standards on discrimination in employment in order to eradicate manual scavenging and promote equality in employment for Dalits.

In February 2012, the ILO held a National Conference to make and scale up strategies to address manual scavenging and to develop a roadmap for the total elimination of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Read more

ILO standards and conventions

The principle of non-discrimination is a core labour standard which is established in ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) from 1958.

The definition of discrimination, which is defined in article 1.1, includes “any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.”

ILO Convention 105 prohibits any form of forced or compulsory labour. Caste discrimination is deeply linked to forced and bonded labour in Asia.

In 1998 Member States signed a Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work which recalled the four core labour standards:

(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
(c) the effective abolition of child labour; and
(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. It further established that to give full effect to the Declaration a promotional follow-up should be implemented, including the drafting of annual global reports on one of the four categories of fundamental principles and rights in turn.

The two fundamental ILO conventions on Forced labour are the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), 1930 and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105), 1957.  Both of these, as well as the UN Convention on Slavery,  have been ratified by India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and the countries are all obliged to report to the ILO every two years. The ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and Trafficking Protocol of 2000 also specifically include forced labour and debt bondage.

ILO Forced Labour Protocol 2014

ILO Forced Labour Protocol 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), 1930

In June 2014, governments, employers and workers at the ILO International Labour Conference (ILC) decided to give new impetus to the global fight against forced labour, including trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices.

They voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Protocol and a Recommendation which supplement the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), and complement existing international instruments by providing specific guidance on effective measures to be taken to eliminate all forms of forced labour.

ILO calls on governments to ratify the newly adopted ILO Forced Labour Protocol, 17 October 2014

Specific ILO recommendations concerning caste-based discrimination

At the 96th session of the International Labour Conference in June 2007, caste-based discrimination was discussed broadly both as a follow-up on the findings in the global report 2007 and in relation to member states’ obligations contained in ILO Convention 111.

At the conference, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which is a subsidiary body appointed by the Governing Body, issued a general report and observations concerning particular countries. Below is a link to the reports and an outline of the relevant references to caste-based discrimination in the reports.


Diversity in the workforce: why it is good for business
Author: Ashwini Deshpande, Professor of Economics at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.  Prepared in collaboration with International Labour Organization (ILO) for the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN).


IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.

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