Remaining silent about caste discrimination in global supply chains is fueling modern slavery, child labour and the exploitation of workers in South Asia, according to new Base Code guidance for companies published by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).
Caste in Global Supply Chains, which has been produced in partnership with the Dalit Solidarity Network-UK and IDSN, outlines four explicit steps businesses can take to tackle caste in their supply chains in order to comply with their human rights obligations and UK modern slavery legislation.
Experts agree that over 80 per cent of those in bonded labour or child labour in India, Nepal or Pakistan are either Dalits (lowest castes) or from indigenous groups. Forced and bonded labour as well as child labour, involving Dalits, has been documented across sectors including in garments, leather, agriculture, construction, carpet weaving and stones and minerals.
Peter McAllister, Executive Director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, comments: “Dalits are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and often this is not understood by global companies. There is now an opportunity to shine a light on exploitation of Dalits and put strategies in place to ensure that they are able to access their rights at work. This guidance tool will help companies understand the issue and take action to mitigate their risks of fueling exploitation and human rights violations within their operations in South Asia.”
The guidance also explains the historical ties between the caste you are born into and employment, with Dalits traditionally being forced to do the most demeaning and toughest work under substandard pay and working conditions. It offers advice on how to take action to ensure inclusive workforces and combat caste discrimination in hiring and promotion practices.
“Many companies sourcing from South Asia are unaware of the role that caste plays in relation to who is doing what jobs in their supply chain and their vulnerability to exploitation,” says Meena Varma of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK. “Companies need to dig deeper into the composition of their work force and remedy caste-based discriminatory practices.
The Guidance is publicly available on the ETI website and will be distributed widely to global companies with supply chains in South Asia. The Guidance includes an overview of the key sectors affected and outlines four key steps to “caste proof your business”.
Key Messages from Caste in Global Supply Chains:
- Caste discrimination is fuelling slavery, child labour and the exploitation of workers in South Asia
- Caste discrimination is largely hidden, and often poorly understood by global companies sourcing from South Asia
- Remaining silent about caste discrimination is a part of the problem, being explicit and addressing it directly with suppliers is the solution
- Responsible companies have a duty to address caste discrimination explicitly in their policies and agreements with suppliers
- Lowest caste workers must be involved in designing, implementing and reviewing initiatives and policies aimed at remedying or preventing caste discrimination
- The new caste guidance offers four key steps to address caste in your business.