`Over 18 m People Living in Slavery Conditions Here’
India has been ranked fourth in a global survey that lists 167 countries where modern slavery is prevalent. The findings of the survey released on Monday indicate some 1.4% of the population -roughly around 18 million people -in the country is living under conditions of modern day slavery. The segments implicated include domestic work, construction, sex industries, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour and forced begging.North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar are the top five on the list that ranks the countries in terms of slavery as a proportion of population. However, India’s absolute slavery figures remain highest with an estimated 18.35 million enslaved people, followed by China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million).

Conducted across 15 states that account for 80% of the total population and covering nearly 14,000 respondents, the India State Survey 2016 was conducted by Gallup and the Walk Free Foundation, which has been conducting such annual global surveys since 2013.

“The prevalence of slavery severely affects the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination. As an international investor, I run to places and look at macroeconomic indicators before making investment decisions. A government committed against slavery would definitely figure high up on my investment list,“ Andrew Forrest, chairman of Australian iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group and a prime mover behind the Walk Free Foundation, told ET in an exclusive chat from London. Forrest has spent the better part of his time in the past four years to end slavery and was exposed to the problem through his daughter who went to do a voluntary service in Nepal.

The findings are likely to make a lot of people in India uneasy , if not embarrassed. Forrest, however, said they did not face any major resistance during the survey and industrialists such as Ratan Tata supported it. Also, on December 3, 2015, major religious leaders of India proclaimed the existence of modern slavery and their combined will to defeat it. “It was the Indian government, who in 2013, encouraged our attempt to introduce country-bycountry independent measurement through the Global Slavery Index as the first but most critical step to managing it out of existence,“ Forrest said.

“We maintained a dialogue with a number of government departments during the course of the survey and briefed them on the findings. We are standing on the edge of extinction of slavery.India is crucial to the whole effort towards removing slavery ,“ he added. A key part of the initiative would in clude Indian corporates and business houses, he said, adding: “To begin with, each one of them would have to decide to look closely at their own supply chains to search for and eliminate instances of bonded or forced labour.“ It is a part of corporate governance and is a sound business practice since one could be crucified in the international market for including a business that even accidentally uses bonded labour, he added. A big eye opener was the fact that a lot of Indian workers face exploitation outside India, like construction workers from South India who work in the Middle East. Fiona David, executive director (global research) at Walk Free Foundation, said quantification of slavery in a large and complex country like India prompted them to undertake a state-level survey in 2016. The organisation is engaging with legal experts in India to take its findings on to the next level and help bring meaningful policy changes to end slavery , which acts as negative economic multiplier, David said.

In India, the informal nature of its labour economy impacts on vulnerability and accounts for a large chunk of the incidence of modern slavery with common drivers like poverty, deep structural inequalities like gender, caste and is distinct state by state.

Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha were affected by Naxalite violence where boys and girls between 6 and 12 years were recruited in specific children’s units. UP is a source, transit and destination state for modern slavery . UP’s 619-km stretch of open borders with Nepal, proximity to Bangladesh and New Delhi, and home to tourist destinations of Varanasi and Agra, facilitate the flow of vulnerable people and impede the ability of law enforcement to detect human traffickers. It also has the highest proportion of child marriages in India -with 2.8 million children married in the 10-19 years category .

Debt bondage is reported to be widespread in Maharashtra, particularly in unregulated industries such as construction, agriculture, mining and brick manufacturing. Borrowing money for marriages, festivals and funerals is a common practice among some tribal groups, which can lead to debt bondage.