Shocking findings of slavery index

Shocking findings of slavery index

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index released recently by the Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation, India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of people in the world caught up in modern slavery. Of the total population of 1.3 billion in India, 1.40% or 18.35 million are victims of one or the other types of modern slavery.

Major instances of modern slavery result from forced labour, prostitution and begging. In 2014, India had 14.3 million people trapped in these types of slavery. The index is based on a comprehensive survey conducted in 167 countries. Behind India are China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million).

Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. Recently, speaking at a Mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis called exploitative employers “true blood suckers” who “live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labour.”

In India, exploitation of workers happens on a large scale in the garment manufacturing sector. Workers are facing appalling working conditions that amount to forced labour in the export oriented South Indian textile industry.

Women and children are forced to work long hours for low wages. They live in company-run accommodations lacking even in basic facilities and are hardly ever allowed to go out.

According to a new study

by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Indian Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), teenage girls and young women are lured from their home villages with promise of a decent job and good pay. Instead, they find themselves working in pathetic conditions which amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour.

The study by Walk Free Foundation revealed that 51.35% of India’s population is vulnerable to modern slavery. Though the country’s growth as an economic power is remarkable, the positive changes in the social system needed for real development are lacking. The age-old evils of caste system, gender bias and feudalism are still prevalent in many guises and disguises.

In the absence of qualitative social changes, it is unsurprising that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist. Inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriages are examples of different types of modern day slavery in the country.

Domestic workers

Industries considered in the survey data include domestic work, construction, sex industry, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour and forced beggary. Though bonded labour  has been abolished officially for decades, survey data confirm that the practice still persists.

Bonded labour has serious negative health impact on those  who typically work in unsanitary and dangerous work environment. Domestic workers are vulnerable to forced labour.

According to official figures, more than 4.2 million men, women and children are working as cooks, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and care givers across the country.

A large number of domestic workers experience excessive overtime, withholding of wages or receive insufficient remuneration. There are many instances of domestic workers being subjected to physical violence and sexual abuse. The survey found the existence of criminal groups forcing people to beg. The 2016 survey data also confirms the existence of forced prostitution in the country.

The informal nature of much of the labour economy impacts vulnerability of the informal labour force. Some 75% of rural and 69% of urban workers are in the informal sector characterised by unregulated and unmonitored work environment.

The Australia study also tracked the government actions and responses to modern slavery. It noted that while India had more people enslaved than any other country, it had made significant progress in introducing measures to tackle the problem.

The study said: “It has criminalised trafficking, slavery, forced labour, child prostitution and forced marriage. The Indian government is currently tightening legislation against human trafficking, with tougher punishment for repeat offenders. It will offer victims protection and recovery support.”

The study also reported

that in addition to economic growth in India, ambitious programmes of legal and social reform are being undertaken across the board, right from regulation of labour relations to systems of social insurance for the most vulnerable.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based professor of economics)

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