The focus of this report is to use evidence-based information to highlight the issue of child labour in the sugarcane sector within its key socio-economic intersections such as gender, caste, migration and structural inequalities in the Indian agriculture sector. Children are pushed into hazardous labour due to structural poverty amongst the harvesters, most of whom are Tribals, Adivasi and Dalit. The intersections of migration, debt bondage, gender-based risks and structured social inequalities such as that of Dalits and Adivasis together play a role in making the problem of child labour more complex. All of these cross cutting issues must be kept in mind when addressing child labour in the sugarcane supply chain and in other agricultural crops in India.
In August 2020, Global March Against Child Labour released an evidence-based report, providing an overview of the situation of child labour with a gender lens in sugarcane harvesting in India. The report highlights that children are pushed into hazardous child labour due to structural poverty among harvesters, most of whom are from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, also referred to as DBA (Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi/Tribal) in this article, because of exploitative hiring practices resulting in debt bondage. It was found that traditional gender-based norms contributed significantly to child labour by normalising unequal wages and unpaid family work.
“Is it really possible advocating for inclusion without acknowledging the history and lived experiences of marginalised people?‘”
Study: Dalits and Adivasis working under hazardous conditions in India’s stone industry Dangerous working conditions, debt bondage and below minimum wages are some of the findings of the study ‘Between a rock and a hard place‘ released by the Dutch-based human rights NGO Arisa. In the quarries surveyed in Rajasthan, it was found that over 60% of the workers were Adivasis or Dalits.IDSN welcomes the study and urges companies to address the issues identified urgently, including looking at the marginalisation of Dalits and Adivasis as a key contributor to their exploitation in the sector.
The federal lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), alleges that 2 dominant caste managers at Cisco’s San Jose headquarters campus, which employs a predominantly South Asian workforce, harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against an engineer because he is a Dalit. At the end of this newsletter there are number of press clippings on this case.
A collection of testimonies has been published that were received in response to Ambedkar King Study Circle’s call to record and share individuals’ experiences of casteist practices in the USA. They document the feelings of discomfort, exclusion, shock, pain, and humiliation experienced by those that are subjected to various casteist practices at school, at the workplace, in their neighborhood, at social gatherings, and in their lives as parents.
A 2020 study by Ashwini Deshpande and Rajesh Ramachandran looks at the disproportionate effect of Covid19 related job losses on Dalits and the need for increased support to these communities. The study finds that while dominant caste jobs declined by 6.8 % the probable job loss for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) was 14% higher than for dominant castes in April 2020.
“In the US IT sector and especially the Silicon Valley, where tech companies employ thousands of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans, caste discrimination in the workplace is a daily reality for many … The caste discrimination case against Cisco should be a wake-up call for Silicon Valley companies”
“Exclusion of caste from discrimination policies makes companies caste-blind. Emerging research suggests caste-based losses to companies are similar to those due to a lack of gender and race diversity.”
“The Oxfam-News laundry report shows how upper castes dominate Indian newsrooms. But journalists like Rajat Sharma, Sudhir Chaudhary and Rahul Kanwal have also emerged as influencers on digital space.”
“In the backdrop of caste supremacy in the Indian diaspora in the United States, when higher-caste Hindus often describe and demonize Dalits as “inherently lazy/ opportunistic/ not talented,” even apparently innocuous practices like peer reviews for promotions (Cisco and several other tech companies operate on this model), can turn into minefields, ending in job losses and visa rejections for Dalits.”
IDSN fully endorses the Call to action on Labour Law changes in India, issued by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The statement calls on businesses sourcing in India to respond to the news that several Indian states will suspend key fundamental labour rights for a period of up to three years, under the cover of the Covid-19 crisis.
A new report published by the human rights NGO Arisa has found that children under 14 years account for over 18% of the workforce in the cottonseed farms surveyed, with over 50% of the child labourers in the sector being Dalits or Adivasis. The majority of the child labourers were not attending school. IDSN welcomes ‘Sowing Hope’ and urges companies looking to address child labour and the working conditions in the seed sector to address caste discrimination directly, as it is a key root cause of child labour, also evidenced by the large percentage of Dalits engaged in this work as documented.
DSN-UK has issued an appeal to the public, governments and companies to raise concern about the plight of Dalits during Covid-19 - "We have the opportunity to reshape the world – so raise your voice and make sure that our government is reminded that equality does not exist for all."
Call on the European Commission to human rights and environmental due diligence. Signed by IDSN in October 2019
Several academicians, activists and politicians have warned against the caste repercussions of moves by certain states to dilute the laws in a bid to attract investors and manufacturers with the economy in dire straits amid the Covid-19 lockdown.
The EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, has announced that the EU Commission will introduce a legislative initiative next year on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for EU based companies. If this legislation is introduced, EU companies can be held responsible for human rights violations in their supply chains. This is very good news for Dalits, Adivasis and other vulnerable workers. These workers often bear the brunt of serious human rights violations in supply chains, including forced and bonded labour, child labour, exploitative and dangerous working conditions and hostile and abusive work environments – as documented in the Ethical Trading Initiative’s guidance Caste in Global Supply Chains. These workers are often found far down in the supply chains as agricultural workers, construction or stone workers or working in spinning mills or leather tanneries supplying the global garment industry.
DSN Statement – We strongly urge governments and companies with supply chains in South Asia, to take measures to urgently protect migrant and informal workers, including Dalits, against a loss of income, social benefits, shelter and a means to feed themselves and their families, as Covid-19 measures and repercussions threaten their lives and livelihoods.
DSN leaves its mark on the UN Business and human rights forum with a very popular stand, highlighting the links between caste and human rights violations in global supply chains. At the stand Dalit human rights defender Ankita Paudel from IDSN member organization, Feminist Dalit Organisation – Nepal (FEDO), and IDSN staff, spoke with participants to improve their understanding and urge them to take action. Ms. Paudel also took part in key events at the forum and made connections with other relevant stakeholders. The IDSN Director, Meena Varma, also gave a snapshot presentation on what Governments can do to start addressing these issues with businesses and IDSN Ambassador, Gerard Oonk, made important new connections and raised awareness of key stakeholders.
Henri Tiphagne, member of the IDSN board, represented IDSN in the Global Consultation on National Human Rights Institutions and access to remedy (Project on the Role of NHRIs in facilitating access to remedy for business-related human rights abuses), on the 10 and 11 October. This consultation is part of an ongoing project of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) about accountability for human rights. violations and abuses committed by corporations.