Ethical Trade Initiative’s Base Code Guidance: Caste in Global Supply Chains

27th March 2020

Ethical Trade Initiative’s Base Code Guidance: Caste in Global Supply Chains

The ETI Base Code Guidance: Caste in Global Supply Chains was published by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in September 2019, developed in conjunction with DSN-UK and IDSN. It shines a light on the abuses that often go on unnoticed in supply chains and what companies can do to recognise and rectify the situation. Clearly set out, with plenty of facts and figures to demonstrate the severity of caste-based discrimination as a major business and human rights issue, the Base Code Guidance is the result of many months of extremely hard work.

The report is keen to acknowledge that there are many ethical businesses, trade unions and NGOs who are doing their best to adhere to current guidelines, but are unaware of the issue of caste in supply chains. As a result, readers are taken through a summary of definitions, the relevance to international businesses, those sectors that see the biggest abuses, and how caste intersects all nine of the base code guidance directives. The report concludes with four steps provided to address the problem and a number of case studies. A number of annexes complete the document, and aside from the usual notes and references, there is a list of other tools and guidances, a summary of international legislation and a more in-depth look at the legal framework in India, Pakistan and Nepal.

The key sectors focused on are carpet weaving (where about half the workers are subjected to forced labour); leather work (where largely Dalits and Muslims are employed and suffer unacceptable health risks); stone and minerals (which has a particularly high level of child bonded labour in synthetic gem manufacture in Tamil Nadu, almost all of which are Dalits or Adivasis); garments (in which Dalit women and girls are trapped under the ‘Sumangali’ scheme whereby they work for a number of years, supposedly to earn a lump sum for their ‘dowry’ at the end of their tenure); agriculture (which employs more bonded labour than all other industries in India combined); and construction (where child and bonded labour are particularly high in the brick kiln industry and workers are threatened, punished and sometimes murdered if they try to escape).

The document was launched in Copenhagen on 12 November through a seminar on vulnerable workers, organised by IDSN, the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH) and ETI in the UK, with Peter McCallister, ETI’s Director remarking that ‘caste underpins so many elements of vulnerability that we must engage with caste issues if we want to address vulnerability’.

If you or anyone you know has business dealings in the global supply chain, particularly in South Asia, please pass on the link to this incredibly important document.