Caste discrimination and the private sector

Caste discrimination and the private sector

Caste discrimination in South Asia needs greater attention, especially from the private sector

This report outlines the main arguments and issues raised in the seminar entitled ‘Employment Principles for Foreign Investors in South Asia’ held in 2004 in London. The seminar raised a number of important issues in relation to caste discrimination and foreign investment in South Asia. Dispelling the view that the caste system is nonexistent today, the seminar and this report call for greater attention to what is still a very live issue.

Points highlighted by the report include :

  • in India, caste discrimination affects over 260 million people, including the tribal peoples and the Scheduled Castes, formerly referred to as untouchables, but who have now adopted a name of their choice - ‘Dalits’
  • at least 50 million others are affected in other countries of South Asia, Japan and several African countries
  • few international companies in the region employ Dalits, and even most international NGOs and UN-related agencies in Nepal employ few Dalits; and in those who do Dalits are employed at the lowest levels
  • few companies, especially those moving to South Asia for the first time are aware of caste discrimination, and are certainly not aware of the degree to which it pervades Indian society, and the harshness with which it is practiced, especially in rural areas
  • caste discrimination continues especially in employment, but also in education, healthcare, housing, land rights and the criminal justice system
  • for the private sector, in the private capital market it is necessary to develop affirmative action policy to improve the access of marginalised groups to private capital as well as to employment opportunities
  • the Global Compact, in particular Principle 6, is relevant in the context of caste system as it requires the supporting companies to make an effort for ‘the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation’
  • also the The Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development (OECD )has also offered guidelines in the area of corporate responsibility and some companies have signed up to the Global Sullivan Principles which emphasise the importance of human rights and equality of opportunity
  • also the Ambedkar “Employment Principles to Assist Foreign Investors to Address Caste Discrimination in South Asia” are intended to acknowledge the degree of historic injustice against Dalits and to compensate for this through affirmative action, in line with international Human Rights standards.

The report also identifies a number of next steps that should be taken in order to tackle the problem of caste discrimination:

  • private Sector Companies should endorse the Global Compact; endorse the Ambedkar Employment Principles as an outworking of the Global Compact in the context of South Asia; they should also require employment agencies whom they use to apply the Principles and encourage their suppliers to also do so
  • trades Unions should seek to bring pressure to bear on international companies which are investing in South Asia, to endorse the Ambedkar Principles
  • the UK and other EU Governments should include discussions of caste discrimination in all their contacts with the countries of South Asia as an essential element in the battle against poverty and for human rights.