Our Corporate Work

Addressing Caste Discrimination within the Corporate Sector DSN-UK and ETI working TOGETHER  The ETI...

Addressing Caste Discrimination within the Corporate Sector


 The ETI ‘Base Code’  {click the Logo}


In 2007 DSN-UK joined the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). At the time the rationale for joining was to highlight the issue of caste and discrimination in the Homeworkers’ project based in Delhi with a project group based in London.

The ETI is a unique tripartite organisation founded in 1998 as an initiative of then the Secretary for State, Clare Short MP, of the newly formed Department for International Development.

ETI’s membership consists of companies, trade unions and NGOs. In 2007 when DSN joined there were 30 corporate members, 5 International trade unions and 15 UK based NGOs. In 2012 company membership has risen to over 70 but with little change in NGO and trade union membership.

This provides us with many challenges as well as opportunities. Back in 2007 caste discrimination in employment was not on the ETI agenda. It has taken 5 years and a great deal of patience to raise awareness of this issue. Many companies with Indian operations although sympathetic when they hear of certain labour rights abuses have felt the issue to be too complex and complicated to tackle. Caste discrimination is not a known entity for many of them, but now there are certain sectors who are willing to spend more time to understand and then begin to tackle this problem in their Indian supply chains. This has been achieved faster by DSN occupying a position on the ETI board since 2010 whereby it can directly raise the issue at board level as one of great importance. There is now some understanding that in order to address labour rights issues in the supply chain in India then they must address the issue of caste.

The ETI has a Base Code based on international labour standards including the Global Compact and ILO regulations. More recently companies are now referring to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As members, companies agree as part of the Code, not to discriminate on the basis of caste and other norms. This has been one of the most difficult aspects of the Base Code to audit and many companies report that there is no discrimination on the basis of caste. We all know that this is simply not a possible outcome in the Indian context.

Since 2011 the ETI has agreed and begun to implement new ways of working tackling key sectors in key sourcing countries. The category areas of work which will be prioritised will be agreed on a tripartite basis. The three categories are currently 1) Food and farming; 2) Hard goods and household; 3) Apparel and textiles.

DSN has played a key role in the latter 2 categories. In Hard goods category, DSN is the lead NGO in the selection of the stone quarries in Rajasthan as one the first areas of work.

It is also important that where private and corporate sector initiatives are being developed that they are done so with these local stakeholders in mind.

ETI also now has independent organisations in the following DSN countries – UK, NL, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Working togather across Europe, we can maximise our combined involvement and engagement to create a Europe-wide programme of corporate sector work involving to adress the caste as a key loabour rights issue in South Asia.

Addressing  Caste Discrimination within the Ethical Trading context 

  • Identify and promote good practice
  • Support local alliances that advance workers’ rights
  • Drive improvements to workers’ conditions and to members’ ethical trade performance
  • Provide cutting edge training courses and resources
  • Build coalitions among companies and other key players including international and national NGO’s so achieve maximum impact


DSN-UK works in partnership with READ (Rights Education and Development Centre) to end bonded labour scheme called Sumangali in Tamil Nadu, India. For more information please read here


DSN-UK and Rights Education and Development Centre project (ended)

Read logo

Click the logo to read the latest report on the National Consultation to End all Forms of Forced Labour in the Garment Sector

Read brouchureIn Tamil Nadu, South India, textile and garment products for big brands and retailers are being made by girls and young women from low caste backgrounds under exploitative working conditions. Workers are recruited from poverty-stricken areas within as well as outside of the state of Tamil Nadu. They are recruited under the so-called ‘Sumangali Thittam’ or ‘Marriage Scheme’ whereby workers are recruited with the promise that they will receive a considerable amount of money after completion of three to five years of employment. This exploitative scheme is tantamount to bonded labour because employers withhold part oof 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. traid logo

Inspired by the work of grassroot organisation READ – Rights Development and Education Centre DSN-UK applied for funding to TRAID. The application was successful and funded a 3 years project to address the forced labour of girls and young women in mills.


Here is the publication of a Baseline Study on the Status of Young Women and Girls working under Sumangali Scheme at textile industries in Erode District issued in 2014.

Meet Manju, an ex-sumangali worker. She was still only 13 at the time of her rescue. She had been working at a mill for over two years but ‘escaped’ in October 2013 and, with READ’s help, she and others are now back at regular school.

Please read a report of the National Consultation: ‘End all forms of forced labour in the garment sector’ here.

Captured  By  Cotton






{click the pic for the full Report}

Exploited Dalit girls produce garments in India for European and US markets

This report highlights several labour rights violations faced by girls and young women employed under the Sumangali Scheme in the Tamil Nadu garment industry. The Sumangali Scheme equals bonded labour, on the basis of the fact that employers are unilaterally holding back part of the workers’ wages until three or more years of work have been completed. In addition, workers are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and privacy. Workers work in unsafe and unhealthy circumstances. Local and international NGOs have reported extensively on the Sumangali Scheme. Inevitably, brands and retailers sourcing from Tamil Nadu have Sumangali workers in their supply chain. ICN and SOMO denounce the Sumangali Scheme as outright unacceptable and are of the opinion that sourcing companies have a responsibility to ensure that workers’ rights are respected throughout their supply chain.


This report is written by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It is based on desk research and field research undertaken by SOMO, ICN and the Campaign Against Sumangali Scheme (CASS). A number of local NGOs affiliated with CASS have contributed to the research but prefer not to be mentioned by name, due to security concerns. Field research was carried out by CASS between May and December 2010. Furthermore, information was gathered by SOMO during a field trip in August 2010, as part of a fact finding mission organised by the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ). Early March 2011, ICN conducted a second field trip.

Maid in India

{click the pic for the full report}

Young Dalit Women Continue to Suffer Exploitative Conditions in India’s Garment Industry 

This report, ‘Maid in India’, follows the report ‘Captured by Cotton’ , published by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) in May 2011.

‘Captured by Cotton’ (above) reveals that a great number of workers are employed under the ‘Sumangali Scheme’.

The current report provides and update of labour conditions in the Tamil Nadu garment and textile industry and examines the current situation at the four garment manufacturers originally investigated for ‘Captured by Cotton’, ie: Bannari Amman, Eastman Exports Global Clothing, K.P.R. Mill and SSM India. In addition, the report looks into what efforts have been undertaken by various parties to achieve improvements. It also presents and overview of recommendations on how to continue to improve conditions

Information on the authors

 The India Committee of the Netherlands

The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) is an independent non-governmental organisationcampaigning and doing advocacy work on human rights issues. Central to the work of ICN are the issues of caste-based discrimination, labour rights and child labour & education. ICN co-operates with organizations in India and elsewhere in combating discrimination, poverty, oppression, exploitation and lack of education, focussing on the role of policy makers and companies. ICN is an active member of networks like the Clean Clothes campaign, the Stop Child labour campaign, the International Dalit Solidarity Network and the Dutch CSR Platform.

Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) is an independent, non-profit research and network organisation working on social, ecological and economic issues related to sustainable development.  Since 1973, the organisation has been investigating multinational corporations and the consequences of their activities for people and the environment around the world. SOMO supports social organisations by providing training, coordinating networks and generating and disseminating knowledge on multinational corporations in a context of international production, trade, financing and regulation.

Campaign Against Sumangali Scheme

The Campaign Against Sumangali Scheme (CASS) is a coalition of civil society organisations in India that works together to raise awareness about the Sumangali Scheme and advocates an end to this system of exploitation.