DSN-UK and READ share their first-hand experience and knowledge of debt bondage in India with a Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequence

  The International Labour Organisation’s report ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012 estimates...

Feb 10 2016

DSN-UK and READ share their first-hand experience and knowledge of debt bondage in India with a Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequence

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

Special Rapporteur, Urmila Bhoola

Special Rapporteur, Urmila Bhoola

 

This September, Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur (SR) on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, will present to the Human Rights Council a thematic report on debt bondage. As a result, she invited various stakeholders such as international and regional organisations, national human rights institutions, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, research institutions and businesses to complete a questionnaire on debt bondage practices.

The International Labour Organisation’s report ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012 estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour. In 2009 annual report SR on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences stated that bonded labour is a form of slavery and one of ‘the most traditional and widespread forms of forced labour’. Article 1 of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines debt bondage or bonded labour as ‘the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined’.

Information gathered on bonded labour by the SR in 2009 indicates that the practice occurs when ‘a person offers his/her labour services in exchange for the repayment of a debt’ and gets coerced into working in exploitative conditions with long working hours, low wages, no days off, etc. SR identified a number of root causes: first, poverty plays a crucial role because people have no other way of subsisting; second, isolations, lack of guidance, and lack of contract with institutions and authorities create extremely vulnerable situation, which facilitates exploitation and forced labour; third, low levels of education of the concerned population puts them in a vulnerable situation where they are not able to understand the nature of their debts, control them in any way or understand their rights as workers, not able to negotiate minimum wages, maximum daily work hours, holidays, frequency of pay and methods of payment; fourth, bonded labourers are from most socially excluded groups who suffer additionally from discrimination and political disenfranchisement; and fifth, populations that have limited access to land for their traditional income-generating activities are more likely to become bonded labourers.

ILO research also indicated a clear link between long-standing patterns of discrimination and forced labour, especially in India where the overwhelming majority of bonded labour victims are from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

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In 2013 Dalit Solidarity Network UK funded by TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and Development) started working in partnership with Rights Education and Development Centre (READ) to End the Sumangali Scheme in South India, where textile and garment products are made for big brands and retailers by girls and young women from low caste backgrounds under exploitative conditions. Girls and young women are recruited by brokers to join the so-called ‘Sumangali Thittam’ or ‘Marriage Scheme’, promised they would receive a considerable amount of money at the end of three to five years of employment.

This exploitative scheme is tantamount to bonded labour because employers withhold part of the workers’ wages until the end of the ‘contract’. Workers are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and privacy. The majority of the workers are Dalit (outcaste) girls younger than 18, from poor families who are lured in with the promises of a decent wage and the lump sum payment upon completion of the contract that may be used for their dowry.

This January DSN-UK and READ completed the Special Rapporteur’s questionnaire on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences questionnaire on bonded labour, sharing their first-hand experience and knowledge of the Sumangali Scheme. The submission will be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences and included in the thematic report on debt bondage.

 

DSN-UK will also publish the completed questionnaire on our website once it has been made public by the Special Rapporteur.