India disputes ILO’s slavery report

Updated - October 06, 2017 09:04 am IST

Published - October 06, 2017 12:41 am IST

A worker transports bricks on a cart at a brick kiln on the outskirts of Jalandhar on September 18, 2017.

A worker transports bricks on a cart at a brick kiln on the outskirts of Jalandhar on September 18, 2017.

The government has written to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) challenging a recent study on “modern slavery” conducted by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation (WFF) on behalf of the global body. The report does not mention India.

The Labour Ministry shot off a strong letter to the ILO regarding its report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017.’ The report, released on September 19, does not contain any India-specific findings, barring a mention that 17,000 people were interviewed for the survey.

The letter follows a missive from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to the government about documentation by multiple international organisations on slavery in India that can hurt India’s image and exports.

In a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office and Labour Ministry, the IB mentioned the following reports — the 2016 United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, the 2015 ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations on Forced Labour, the 2016 Global Slavery Index 2016 and ILO-WFF joint report of 2017.

Authenticity doubted

Union Labour Secretary M. Sathiyavathy wrote a letter to ILO Director General Guy Ryder on Thursday doubting the authenticity of the survey. The letter accessed by The Hindu stated that “neither the Central government was consulted before the study nor its credibility has been established.” “We would like to know the basis on which the data has been verified for credibility when apparently it has been neither verified with any official data source including that of ILO nor any national governments have been consulted regarding the survey methodology,” the letter dated October 4 said.

Although country-wise figures were not mentioned in the 2017 ILO-WFF report, the study said 40.3 million people were victims of ‘modern slavery’ in 2016.

In a letter to the PMO, the IB had warned that there was “evidence of rising interest of private and multilateral institutions in highlighting human trafficking and forced labour as modern day slavery, with India being the largest hub of slaves.”

“Various estimates of slavery have been made by ILO and WFF since 2012. WFF has continuously kept India at first place, with 18 million slaves in 2016. WFF was created in 2012 by Australian mining tycoon, Andrew Forrest and was formally endorsed by Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Bill Gates. A detailed study of WFF’s methodology of sampling revealed that the focus is entirely on India. The largest sample (17,000 respondents) surveyed in 2017, was in India. The next highest sample was only 2,000 for Russia, Pakistan, etc.,” the IB report said.

Even as the Labour Ministry has countered the ILO-WFF report, the Central government is exploring a rebuttal at an international level through consultations with the Ministry of External Affairs and other departments, sources said. At the same time, the government is also planning to conduct its own surveys on bonded labour in a bid to counter various estimates by private agencies.

“Although there have been discussions so far, the ILO has not defined ‘modern slavery’ in its conventions. We define bonded labour in our law in compliance with ILO standards. India doesn’t recognise the term ‘modern slavery’,” a senior Labour Ministry official said.

Asked why a letter was sent on a report which does not directly mention India, a senior government official said, “the ILO-WFF report of 2017 has avoided mentioning specific countries because of aggressive reactions. As per our assessment, out of 40 million slaves mentioned in the report, around 14-18 million are said to be in India.”

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