Discrimination based on gender, religion, caste and tribal background is a widespread issue in the workplace in South Asia.
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In its research into international supply chains, Arisa encounters a wide range of discriminatory practices in the workplace. Gender, religion, caste and tribal background determine workers‘ employment opportunities and affect how they can perform their work and how they are treated in the workplace.
While Arisa addresses all forms of discrimination in its work, it focuses on caste-based discrimination; an issue deeply rooted in South Asian societies. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, many laws are in place that counter caste-based discrimination and are in place to protect all residents and citizens of these countries. However, implementation of these laws remains poor.
Caste is an ancient system of social hierarchy based on one’s birth which is tied to concepts of purity and social status. This system is deeply rooted in the culture of several South Asian countries. In particular, casteless people, also known as Dalits or people from the Scheduled Caste, are considered inferior in countries where the caste system exists. They face all kinds of social exclusion. This caste-based discrimination affects 260 million people.
In studies on supply chains, it is apparent that where there are many labour rights violations, Dalits are often the victims. They are usually uneducated, mistreated, and assigned only the dirtiest and most dangerous work. Dalits suffer all kinds of discrimination in the workplace: for example, they have to use separate transport, have to eat and drink separately, have segregated sleeping and working areas, and have to perform all kinds of extra cleaning activities.
The link between caste and religion
There are clear links between caste-based discrimination and religion in South Asia. Both lower-caste communities and religious minorities occupy marginalised economic, social and cultural positions in South Asian societies.
Specific social characteristics based on caste and religion are the main determinants of poverty across India. Dalits, alongside tribal communities and Muslims are the worst off. Hindu Dalits in India have been converting to other religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam for years to try to escape the hardships and discrimination that are inextricably linked to being from a Scheduled Caste background. An estimated 70% of Christians in India are from Dalit communities. In other South Asian countries, Dalits are often part of the Hindu community and face double discrimination, being both Dalits and members of a religious minority. Although most Dalits identify as Hindus, a similar caste system also occurs among other religious groups in South Asia. Islam and Christianity do not formally have a caste system, but in practice, it exists in several South Asian countries within Islamic and Christian communities.
Discrimination in international supply chains
Caste-based discrimination and intersectionality, sometimes linked to religion, are high-risk factors for companies sourcing products from India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Caste-based discrimination is an under-reported human rights problem and a significant risk for all companies with international supply chains in South Asia. Arisa pays attention to the position of Dalits in the production sectors in which it works. It puts caste-based discrimination on the agenda internationally through International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN).