Urge UK companies operating in India to address caste discrimination
Caste in South Asia is a long-standing and highly discriminatory social and economic system. The ‘untouchables’, as they were once called and often are still treated, experience something frequently close to slavery. By far the greatest number of people affected – about 300 million – are in India.
Many of the officially named ‘scheduled castes’ call themselves Dalits. The word means ‘downtrodden’ or ‘broken’, but they use it as a term of resistance.
Caste discrimination is widespread in education, employment, landownership, access to water and housing, and under the justice system, although the Indian Constitution embodies principles that supposedly entrench Dalit human rights. Vigorous action is needed to level the playing field. Commitment to ‘equality of opportunity’ is insufficient.
Foreign companies are in an important position in India. Serious injustices can be a major loss to society and create a negative climate for business.
The International Dalit Solidarity Network evolved the Ambedkar Principles to set out good practice for foreign companies investing in India. No company has yet signed them, but some, such as HSBC, support the Confederation of Indian Industry’s affirmative action programme, which attempts to address caste.
The Methodist Conference passed a resolution expressing deep concern in 2003, and the Methodist Church’s Joint Action Committee on Ethical Investment and Central Finance Board have adopted a policy statement on caste discrimination.
What you can do:
- To learn more, read this longer briefing from the Churches’ Dalit Support Group or visit the website of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK.
- Read the Ambedkar Principles and the Methodist Central Finance Board’s policy statement.
- Write to one or more of the companies listed here, urging them to take caste discrimination more seriously by endorsing the Ambedkar Principles – or if they do not wish to do so, seek specifics on why this is.
- Draw on, adapt from and add to these points in your letter(s) to one or more companies.
- Let David Haslam of the Churches’ Dalit Support Group or ECCR know what action you take and of any replies you receive.