Can the relationship Australia is building with India, force millions more people into modern slavery? India is a country with some 450million people in “informal labour”. As a result, there is a huge risk of slavery in the supply chains. Because, ‘Informal labourers’ have no minimum wages rates or benefits. And, on top of that, there are the 8 million people already in modern slavery (according to the Global Slavery Index); So how is Australia going to help reduce those numbers?

This article looks closely at the difficult road Australia now has to navigate, as India and Australia reaffirm their mutual interest in closer diplomatic and economic ties.

“In the shadows of the agenda to accelerate trade and investment is the risk of pushing more Indian workers into slave conditions.

450 million informal workers

In truth, no one knows the exact size of India’s informal sector. Statistics are unreliable for work defined as “disorganised”. As in other countries, India’s COVID-19 response has hit these workers in lowly paid, insecure manual labour hardest. This was amplified by the severity and swiftness of measures.

139 million migrant wokers

India has an estimated 139 million internal “migrant workers”. They come from poor regions all across India to find work in the wealthiest cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Surat. Typical jobs are in building and manufacturing, where the average daily pay rate is about US$4.60.

With no work, no money, in fear of having no food and of catching the coronavirus, migrant workers have for weeks queued at train and bus stations for restricted services to get home.

8 million modern slaves

The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates about 8 million Indians are in some form of modern slavery – in situations were they are forced to work under threat; are owned or controlled by another; are dehumanised or treated as a commodity; and are not free to leave.

Suspending labour laws

So clearly law enforcement in India needs work. As things stand, however, the push is on to do even less. Half a dozen of India’s 28 states have already signalled their desire to suspend labour laws. ”

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Australia’s Modern Slavery Act requires businesses to analyse the risk of slavery in their supply chains. If trading with India is increased, there is a greater risk of millions more people being forced into modern slavery. Because it is as simple as supply and demand. So how can Australia ensure this does not occur? Can Australia put pressure on India as trading partners to improve their trading laws. Let’s hope so.