Targeting Bonded Labor

Bonded labor is one of the biggest problems the world faces today, and it is equally prevalent in almost every part of the world. This article reflects on the insights of two cases which revolve around this problem and the steps taken by the authorities, legal fraternity and the government to tackle the issue.

Recently in Pakistan a lawsuit had been filed in effect to ban bonded labor within the country which directly violates the human rights of the population. The imposition has subsequently been implemented by government measures and was backed up by legal judgments. In the same year in the USA, another lawsuit had been filed against a large corporation which was engaged in the activity to bond labor in order to get more productivity without extra compensation to the workers. This caused great amounts of human rights violations.

The Case of Bonded Labor in Pakistan
In 2008 Pakistan’s Supreme Court declared bonded labor to be unconstitutional and initiated steps to abolish it. The National Assembly of the country passed a law abolishing bonded labor and prohibiting the practice. It publicized the official rules outlining how the law was to be implemented. Bonded labor, or “debt bondage” as it is also known, is a practice condemned by the United Nations as being similar to slavery and consequently a violation of human rights. It is considered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to constitute forced labor and to be a violation of its convention on forced labor.

However, despite the short-term progress following the Supreme Court’s judgment, debt bondage still remains a challenge for the Pakistani Government.

There are NGOs and human rights groups working in the country for the release of the bonded laborers. They have successfully secured the release of about 7,000 to 8,000 bonded laborers in the country this year, by persuading police or local government officials to inspect places where bonded laborers are reported to be held, and ordering them to be released when they are found. However, it is still very difficult, and over the past nine months the principle challenge for them has been to ensure that the freed bonded laborers remain free.

The Case of Bonded Labor in USA
In the USA, three large scale organizations were sued by a human rights group, in the Federal Court, in the year 2006. The purpose was to force them to implement measures to end bonded labor on farms and distant locations, which are a source of cocoa beans used to make chocolate.

The suit claimed that the entities were involved in transporting, torturing and the unwilling use of labor that were confined to work on distant farms in unbearable conditions.

The corporations refused to exchange a small portion of their massive profits to ensure sufficient return for farmers and workers. The lawsuit claims the workers were beaten and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day with no pay and little food or sleep.

The rescued bonded labor said they were aged 12 to 14 when they were taken from their homes. The lawsuit also covers thousands of workers who were evidently confined from 1996 until the present day to work on the farms.
As a result of this lawsuit, the entire chocolate industry accepted the legibility and existence of bonded labor and signed an agreement in June 2008 with the International Labor Rights Organization (ILO) to work for the elimination of this factor.

Human rights are of prime importance in the labor laws of any country. The nations must address this issue and put forward structured steps in order to eliminate this factor. The judiciary and the political systems must play their respective roles to enforce measures to eliminate this problem.


4 Responses

  1. “According to me, this is one of the best steps which both governments have taken. Bonded labor is one of the prime issues when it comes to preserving the rights of the human beings. I personally would like to appreciate this effort and expect more work to be putting in future.”

  2. “The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976, ensures statutory benefits; it provides rehabilitative benefits of Rs.20,000 to the family of the rescued laborer. Rescued laborers should therefore be treated under this rather than under the Act mentioned within this article (Alien Tort Claims Act)”.

  3. “This article is indeed throwing light on the dilemma of the bonded laborers and it’s the demand of the time to treat humans as humans and not as mere objects of exploitation. Nice article”.

  4. The menace of bonded labour is a serious challenged faced by the state and society of Pakistan. While there have some efforts, which, of course, are appreciable, yet the menace continues all the same.
    In my view, the main problem lies with the implementation of the relevant laws and court rulings on the subject.
    I will commence my work on a project on bonded labour in Pakistan. My focus will be the implementation of the relevant laws and court verdicts. I will also look at the policy perspective from the standpoint of the human rights. I will test Pakistan’s efforts in the perspective of the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development, which was the topic of my doctoral thesis.
    Comments and suggestions are welcomed.

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