The Intelligence Bureau (IB) in India has recommended a robust campaign to “discredit” the information and a diplomatic offensive against the warning that “global documentation on slavery is increasingly targeting India as home to the highest number of slaves in the world.”
The bureau sent a “secret” note to the country’s PM office, national security adviser, the ministry of external affairs, the ministry of labour and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) last week, according to The Indian Express.
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The note warned that the slavery documentation by International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency, and the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation (WFF), “has enough potential to substantially harm India’s image and exports, and impact its efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.” This refers to eradicating forced and child labour, and human trafficking.
The IB note was prepared within a week of the ILO-WFF releasing their report “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage” on September 19.
Since 2013, successive global slavery surveys found India to be the country with the highest number of people working in modern slavery “under threat or coercion as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, on farms and fishing boats, in other sectors, and in the sex industry.”
In many cases, said the ILO-WFF report, the products these modern slaves “made and the services they provided ended up in seemingly legitimate commercial channels.” They produce “some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear” and they clean “the buildings in which many of us live or work.”
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The IB note claimed that European corporations use the ILO-WFF survey “to fund NGOs to focus on alleged ‘slavery’ in South India’s textile industry (40 per cent of India’s textile exports)” while recent anti-slavery laws in the US and UK “make it mandatory for businesses to declare that none of their suppliers are violating slavery norms.”
Dutch NGOs also had released the two prominent reports on slavery in the Indian textile industry.
In October 2014, Flawed Fabrics, a report by India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), highlighted the alleged abuse of girls and women working in the South Indian textile industry.
In December 2016, the International Competition Network (ICN) surveyed 734 spinning mills in Tamil Nadu to claim in its second report, Fabric of Slavery, various forms of slavery in more than 90 per cent of these units, which produced yarn for Western brands.
The IB has recommended a three-pronged strategy: counter “motivated” advocacy with credible slavery estimation through a much larger sample survey; “discredit” WFF’s questionable estimate, through a rejoinder from Indian Statistical Institute; and intervene diplomatically to force ILO to dissociate from WFF, a private foundation.
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“Unlike earlier WFF reports,” the note added, “it avoided mentioning country-specific numbers. However, all indications are that India is being assessed to have 14-18 million slaves, the highest in the world.”
In the 2016 survey, the Asia-Pacific region and India accounted for 30 million and 18 million, respectively, of the total 46 million slaves estimated globally.
The IB blamed these “questionable statistics” on the lopsided sample size. It claimed 17,000 respondents were surveyed in India while the next highest sample size was only 2,000 for nine countries such as Russia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In other survey countries, typically, 1,000 face-to-face interviews were conducted.
According to the note, US Senators Bob Corker and Ben Cardin “accorded credibility to these questionable statistics by using them in official pronouncements” prior to the Modi’s visit in June 2016.
This story originally appeared on the Indian Express.