Category Archives: Uncategorised

6 States in India Change their Labour Laws at Significant Cost to Workers and their Rights

16th June 2020

Labour laws are considered to be one of the most important tools in protecting the workforce from exploitation, ensuring anything from the maximum number of working hours to health and safety at work. Why, then, are some states in India throwing out the rulebooks?

Supposedly this is in response to assisting the economy in recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, while some have suggested that it may be an attempt to steal back some of the cheap labour market from China. Regardless of the reason, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab are all making changes that contravene the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions. The government in Uttar Pradesh is aiming for a three-year exemption from current labour laws, including those that relate to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety, and health and working conditions. Trades unions, contract workers and migrant labourers are also in their firing line. In many of the affected states working shifts will be increased from 8 hours to 12 hours, and the working week increased from 48 hours to 72 hours a week. Furthermore, no inspections will be carried out if the firm has less than 50 workers.

During the current crisis, labour net-importing states have seen a shortage of workers, which has driven up wages. Consequently, some states have attempted to restrict migrant labour from returning home – the Gujarat government is even considering allowing factories to start disciplinary proceedings against workers who have returned to their home state, despite this being against Article 23 of the Constitution, which provides a ‘right against exploitation’.

After spending the early years of the 21st century attempting to amend and modernise labour laws, India has taken a massive step backwards in protecting the rights of workers. Criticism has been levelled at the country not only by a number of trades unions who have been organising protests, but internationally as well. DSN-UK fully endorses the statement issued by the Ethical Trading Initiative calling on its members to take steps to increase dialogue, and it is hoped that the British government will voice its concerns to India and ensure that workers’ rights remain inviolable.

The Disproportionate Effects of Covid-19 on Dalits

7th May 2020

The UK is mostly an incredibly generous population – even in this time of crisis where job uncertainty is rife and financial security is a thing of the past, we continue to donate not just to causes in the UK, but also those across the world who require help to deal with Covid-19 and its implications.

However, in caste-affected countries, history has taught us that when it comes to distributing aid, Dalits are often those most in need and those most often denied access to relief and state benefits. They may already be living in highly crowded spaces with limited access to clean water and sanitation; are the first to lose their jobs as daily wage labourers, home-based workers or modern slaves; live hand-to-mouth with no savings or food to spare; and have difficulty accessing healthcare. With higher rates of malnutrition, they generally have a weaker immune system and are therefore at higher risk of being severely affected by the virus.

So, as members of the public, what can we do to ensure that assistance is given to those most in need? The simple answer is to put pressure on governments and companies with global supply chains in caste-affected countries.

Governments can be encouraged to comply with the UN core human rights treaties and ILO fundamental conventions, including providing support to high-risk communities such as migrant workers, many of whom are Dalits. They can also put pressure on companies to act in a way that mitigates the impact of the crisis on vulnerable workers.

As far as companies are concerned, we can urge them to continue to pay wages where possible or provide suitable severance, especially where local governments cannot step in to assist. If they are able to provide support where needed for provision of food, clean water and healthcare by cooperating with suppliers, this should also be done. Perhaps mostly importantly, they should insist that their suppliers conform to the WHO’s recommendations on health and safety guidance to protect workers from Covid-19.

At some point, the world will come out of the crisis. However, once national recovery efforts are underway, it is essential that governments ensure that Dalits and other minorities are included in the process to rebuild their countries. The disproportionate effect on Dalits of both lockdown and vulnerability to the virus itself must be confronted, so that the most marginalised are protected. A number of excellent reports have been prepared by Hope for Justice and Anti-Slavery International that highlight just how much the vulnerable are open to further abuse in times such as these.

As many of us sit at home wondering how to use up an excess of time, writing a letter to the UK Department for International Development, the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, registering concern about the plight of Dalits, can make a cumulative difference. 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, but can do with the right international pressures.

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.

Dalit Solidarity Network UK Launches New Look Website

18th February 2020

We are delighted to introduce our new website: The DSN-UK team have been working hard over the last few months to ensure that the new site is easier to navigate and has a more contemporary appearance, with the help of designers Eighth Day. Divided into categories, you can now explore further under the main titles of Caste Discrimination, Caste in the UK, What We Do, Take Action and News. Whether you want to find out about caste discrimination globally or are more focused on how you can change things here in the UK, the new website can direct you to a letter you can write to your local MP, a leaflet that can be downloaded to disseminate information or resources to help you understand the issues better.

It will also now be easier to donate to the cause via a dedicated button that appears on every page. We will be keeping both the UK and International News sections updated and will add to theRaise Awareness and Resources sections as new material becomes available both from ourselves and other organisations working in this area. As usual, you can also send us messages via ourContact page, whether it be to provide feedback, report instances of caste-based discrimination or ask for further information or expertise. We do hope that you will also become a member orJoin our mailing list if you have not done so already.

We hope that you enjoy the new look!

UK Government will repeal caste law

15th August 2019

The Government Equalities Office have finally published the results of the six-month public consultation on Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law, determining whether ‘caste’ should be included in the Equality Act 2010.

The consultation, launched in March 2017 and finished in September 2017, has at last been announced, one day before the beginning of Parliament’s Summer Recess, leaving little opportunity for pro-legislators to respond in a timely manner. Consisting of 13 questions, the crux of the matter was to find out whether caste discrimination should be included in Statue Law or remain under Case Law.

Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary for Women and Equalities, stated in parliament yesterday that “The Government’s primary concern is to ensure that legal protection against caste discrimination is sufficient, appropriate and proportionate.” Consequently, any future instances of caste discrimination will have to rely on case law. Her full response can be found at

After over 16,000 responses – well above the average – tragically, the government have concluded that ‘caste’ is already covered under ‘ethnic origins’ and that including the term in legislation is both unnecessary and divisive. In all, 8,513 respondents favoured relying on case law, 2,885 were in favour of legislation and 3,588 rejected both options; 1,113 respondents didn’t know or were not sure which option would be most appropriate. While pro-legislation campaigners have emphasised that this is not an issue of religious persecution, the Hindu and Sikh lobbies have seen it as just that. And despite the government’s reassurance that the analysis would be qualitative rather than quantitative, it appears that certain voices have been louder than others.

The consultation analysis seems to doubt whether caste discrimination exists in Great Britain, but this in itself creates a ‘Catch-22’: how are victims meant to report this type of discrimination if the crime is not recognised? The role of the government should be prophylactic, and clearly condemn caste discrimination in all its form via legislation, rather than waiting to see if any victims are brave enough to endure a court system that at present has only one piece of case law to reference.

Meena Varma, Director of DSN-UK, has expressed her extreme disappointment over the result: “It seems that the government has decided that the issue is not significant enough to ensure legal protection. The victims of this form of discrimination will continue to suffer, as the government refuses to acknowledge that the problem exists. Emerging case law cannot provide enough protection for those subjected to caste discrimination. It usually takes years and a mountain of cases before case law stands any chance being upheld in court. The tragedy in all of this is that it will continue to be a hidden problem as those seeking help will believe that there is scant legal recourse for them in Great Britain.”

For full details of the Government Consultation Response and Analysis, go to