Ending Forced Labor in India: What Does It Take?

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5.22.18 AM

For immediate release: Thursday, March 31, 2016

Boston, MA – Neither legal nor socio-economic interventions have eradicated widespread forced and bonded labor in India. But a new report published today by Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights provides some hope for progress. With detailed evidence and meticulous analysis, the report documents the very positive impact of a community organization’s work on entrenched labor exploitation in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. It is the first report of its kind.

Entitled “When We Raise Our Voice: The Challenge of Eradicating Labor Exploitation,” the report examines the impact of a multifaceted, sustained, community-based intervention to eradicate forced and bonded labor. It centers on the efforts of Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS), a local NGO dedicated to the elimination of exploitative labor practices within low caste, remote communities, home to some of India’s most economically disenfranchised and vulnerable populations. Agriculture, brick making, and carpet weaving—well known hubs of forced and abusive labor—are the main sources of employment in this area.

According to the report, MSEMVS has had a dramatic impact on improving the lives of individuals and households in the communities studied. The organization’s approach, the report claims, is a promising example of the robust, rights enhancing role such community empowerment interventions can play. Among other positives, MSEMVS increases residents’ understanding of legal rights and available legal support, and fosters critically important opportunities for education and new skill development.

Key findings attesting to the success of the MSEMVS approach include the following:

  • Improved labor conditions, including dramatic reductions in threats of physical violence.
  • Markedly improved food security and food availability, leading to increases in daily food intake and regular meals.
  • Increased uptake of social protection and other government services by community members.
  • Significantly reduced debt and a lowering of debt related to medical expenses.

Given the entrenched and devastating impact of forced labor in India, these findings are both encouraging and urgent. They suggest that past failures do not justify apathy or inaction. On the contrary, the report shows that much more can be done to support community-based efforts to eradicate some of the most egregious labor and human rights violations of our age.

For additional information, please contact Tizzy Tulloch, Harvard FXB communications director, at ttulloch@hsph.harvard.edu or (617) 432-7134.

The FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University is a university-wide interdisciplinary center that conducts rigorous investigation of the most serious threats to health and wellbeing globally. Based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, we work closely with scholars, students, the international policy community, and civil society to engage in ongoing strategic efforts to promote equity and dignity for those oppressed by grave poverty and stigma around the world. http://fxb.harvard.edu