A recent OECD side-event, co-organised by Arisa and IDSN, delved into caste discrimination within global garment and footwear supply chains, offering practical insights for companies seeking to address this pervasive problem. Led by a panel of experts, the session provided actionable strategies tailored to the challenges posed by caste discrimination.

Focusing on the specific context of South Asia, where caste discrimination is highly prevalent, the discussion highlighted instances within the textile and garment industries in India and Pakistan. Dalit workers in these sectors face systemic barriers, from segregation in workplace facilities to physical, sexual or verbal abuse, forced labour and limited career advancement opportunities.

The event, which took place on 23 February, featured Dalit speakers including Beena Pallical, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, India, R Karuppusamy, Rights Education and Development Centre READ, India, and Bhagwani Bai Rathore, Pakistan Dalit Solidary Network, Pakistan. IDSN Executive Director, Meena Varma, also spoke at the event which was moderated by Sandra Claasen, Director of Arisa, the Netherlands.

Despite the widespread impact of caste discrimination, it often remains unaddressed in corporate due diligence processes, posing significant risks to affected workers and communities. To bridge this gap, the panel outlined a series of targeted measures for companies to adopt:

  1. Raise Awareness: Companies must familiarise themselves with the nuances of caste discrimination and its implications for their supply chains.
  2. Conduct Assessments: Undertake thorough assessments to identify the extent of caste discrimination within the supply chain, paying particular attention to hidden pockets of marginalisation.
  3. Initiate Constructive Dialogue: Approach conversations about caste sensitively with suppliers, focusing on diversity and inclusion.
  4. Implement Inclusive Policies: Develop and enforce policies that support Dalit workers and address discrimination, including measures to combat unconscious bias and ensure equal opportunities in recruitment and promotion.
  5. Establish Effective Grievance Mechanisms: Provide safe avenues for workers to voice concerns without fear of reprisal, ensuring Dalit representation in grievance mechanisms.

Throughout the session, the importance of collective action in combating caste discrimination was underscored, with examples such as the Dindigul Agreement demonstrating the efficacy of collaborative efforts between Dalit-led trade unions and international stakeholders.

Looking ahead, organisations are encouraged to engage with organisations like IDSN and Arisa to deepen their understanding of caste discrimination and access resources for addressing it within their supply chains.