Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bonded Labor: More needs to be done than passing a law against it

Bonded Labor: More needs to be done than passing a law against it

Poor laborers and Haris are always short of cash and have to borrow, often from their employers, some loan, advance salary etc. Once they borrow it, they can often not pay back, mostly due to harsh borrowing terms. And thus they become bonded labor aka slaves. Infact lending to employees and labor is often used as a tool for inducting forced or bonded labor. Most share croppers fall into this trap, especially when the crop prices used to be depressed, which is no more the case. Unemployment, sickness, marriage, birth and legal and police entanglements etc, may create conditions enough for the poor to borrow and fall into this trap. The most abominable aspect of this practice is that the whole family is taken into bondage including children and women. Human trafficking and rape are common inflictions.

Anti-Bonded Labor Act had been passed in 1992, after the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared this abominable practice as unconstitutional. However , the situation has not changed much. No violator has been convicted yet, despite this widely prevailing practice among employers and agricultural land lords. More has to be done than having passed the law. Only if a few violators were targeted, tried and convicted, some discouraging signals would have been sent. Only once in a while, some media stories are published because of some extraordinary cruelty and stupidity of a violator.

Agriculture, Brick kiln, mining and household is the major sectors indulging in bonded labor practices. There are some unscrupulous religious elements that ideologically support bonded labor as slavery, the latter used to be a permitted practice in Islam. No more. But some people may always make a morbid case. There is a strong case that a clear Fatwa is issued against it and widely publicized.

There could be other market based tools employed to discourage this practice on the lines of Environmental labeling. Businesses could be encouraged not to deal with the individuals and companies indulging in Bonded Labor practices by the way of publishing a black list of such persons. Business federations own byelaws could adopt such a practice. Governments, federal and provincial, should also compile a list of such persons and entities, under which prohibitory orders could be issued. Banks, for example may decline to do business and extending loans to such persons, whose name is published in such a black list. If government finds it difficult, some NGO connected with the Labor Departments could assume the responsibility of compiling such a list. A lot of other steps could be taken creatively such as requiring suspected or impugned violators to issue and submit certificate that he or she does not indulge or has abandoned this practice.

Government of Pakistan Peoples Party has a special moral and political obligation to take action in this respect, as it has been founded on the pro-poor and pro-labor principles and philosophy. Other parties may also have propounded such philosophies, but PPP has a special standing and commitment in this respect. It would also be politically expedient. Sending influential violators Jails would create news. In politics, either you create news or your detractors or opponent would create news-against you. So go getting

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