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The Earl of Sandwich rose to call attention to the case for action, bilaterally, and through inter-governmental organisations, to end bonded labour and all other contemporary forms of slavery; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is an honour to introduce a debate on bonded labour and contemporary forms of slavery. I acknowledge the support I have received from my Cross-Bench colleagues. I speak as a council member of Anti-Slavery International, to whom I am indebted for many of the statistics, but I shall also draw on experience gained with other organisations.
Slavery is hardly a new subject to the House. The very name of Wilberforce is evidence of continuity in this and another place. I pay tribute to my noble and learned friend and to his forebears for the campaigns of the past, which we shall continue. But in our mobile society, the new slavery has some hidden but no less hideous manifestations.
I shall concentrate on the Indian sub-continent, if only to vary the prevalent image that we have of slavery in sub-Saharan Africa. A few weeks ago I heard a bonded labourer from Maharashtra, Keshav Nankar, tell his story. He described how his father had removed him from school to make him work for his landlord, to whom he owed a debt. For years he toiled in the fields and received one meal a day, but the debt was never paid. Like his father, he was utterly dependent and destined to remain in bondage for life. When he tried to earn extra income elsewhere he was assaulted, abused and returned to the landlord. It was only when he joined an association started by a Mr and Mrs Vivek Pandit in 1983 to help bonded labourers that Keshav was able to break free and assert his rights under Indian and international law. The Pandits are the latest of a long line of recipients of the Anti-Slavery Award who have successfully campaigned against various forms of ignorance, abuse and oppression and secured the release of thousands of bonded labourers. While many countries have long ago passed legislation to outlaw slavery, the victims, by themselves, rarely have redress. It is often only a test case or a sustained campaign by their peers that finally secures their freedom, with, if possible, a rehabilitation programme which will secure their income in future.
It is estimated by the UN Working Group on Slavery that there are over 20 million bonded labourers, most of whom are in the Indian subcontinent. In India alone there are at least 12 million (or about 6 per cent of all agricultural labourers), most of whom are dalits and adivasis. According to Human Rights Watch last year, the true figure may be nearer 40 million. Of those, the Indian Government had at the last count (the end of March 1998) identified and rehabilitated only 240,000. As we heard earlier today from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in Pakistan there may be 20 million, of whom 8 million are children. One survey showed that 51 per cent of farmers had taken out loans, in nine out of 10 cases from their own landlords. Seventy-five per cent of labourers at brick kilns are bonded. A study of child labour in the carpet industry found that nine out of 10 families were in debt. Many of the 1.2 million children involved in carpet-weaving in Pakistan are bonded.
At times it seems as though the evils of feudalism and the caste system are so endemic in society that they will never change. Recently, Sir Leon Brittan, now the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, in responding to the notion of an ethical foreign policy, said that today's Good Samaritans could respond only within their "circle of obligation". Presumably, that means that one can campaign against slavery only if one lives in a city like Liverpool or Bristol. We cannot pretend to fight every battle, whether in politics, diplomacy or international law, yet history shows that where clearly defined justice coincides with organised resistance and the determination of the people, oppression and immoral practices can be eroded; indeed, they are being broken down every day.
This debate gives me the opportunity to report on a visit that I paid to Nepal only two weeks ago sponsored by Anti-Slavery International and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The visit was organised by an impressive Nepalese human rights charity called INSEC founded only 10 years ago at the outset of Nepal's parliamentary democracy. With Swami Agnivesh, a veteran Indian campaigner on bonded labour, Dr Kevin Bales of the University of Surrey and two experts from Pakistan and Japan, I called on Nepal's political leaders to reinforce the need for legislation already identified by those Nepalese who were committed to a fairer and more democratic society.
In India, case law has been a helpful stimulus to change. A prominent decision in the Supreme Court by Justice Bhagwati in 1984 on behalf of bonded labourers in Haryana was a historic landmark in the campaign led by the Bonded Liberation Front. It is likely that a similar case brought before the Nepalese Supreme Court will have a catalytic effect. It is well
Unwittingly, as consumers we often subscribe to a society in which bonded labourers such as child carpet-weavers and gem polishers who work in dangerous conditions are merely kept in their place. This system continues in Nepal in violation of the UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery 1956 to which Nepal is a signatory. This and the Slavery Convention 1926 were ratified in 1963 but there is no specific legislation on bonded labour in Nepal. Even the statutory minimum wage under the Labour Act 1992--which is another parallel issue--does not cover agriculture. Despite our efforts, Nepal has not ratified ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labour which includes an explicit ban on debt bondage. Even when Nepal has its own legislation on bonded labour the problem, as so often, will be its implementation. It will depend on education and public awareness of the existing law and the ability of individuals and small groups to resist landlords and vested interests, who in many cases maintain law and order and may even be its representatives.
Foreign governments and investors in developing countries like Nepal are rightly interested in the success of the democratic process which now depends on empowering informal sectors of civil society as much as, and alongside, the formal political system. As the noble Lord, Lord Paul, said earlier when speaking of Pakistan and India, it requires transparency, accountability and the due process of law. I believe that that applies also to Nepal.
During our visit to Nepal the new Prime Minister, Mr Bhattarai, undertook to appoint a commission on bonded labour which would report within two and a half months, after which the government would themselves sponsor a Bill. That was genuine progress. The Opposition Leader Madhav Kumar Nepal told us that his party had already condemned bonded labour and its members were committed to its removal. The Speaker, the Chairman of the National Assembly and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court all gave us their personal reassurance that legislation, drafts of which were already available through the human rights charity INSEC and its lawyers, would be enacted as soon as possible. I give the example of Nepal because it is a country with a genuine political will to abolish the kamaiya system and other forms of bonded labour which afflict over 100,000 families who live mainly in the south-western Tarai and many others elsewhere under the more widespread haliya system.
This brings me to the role of outside governments, in particular our own. I shall try briefly to outline our national responsibility, although I hope that others will ask more detailed questions. First, we have an
Secondly, Her Majesty's Government also need to ratify ILO Convention 182 eliminating the worst forms of child labour adopted in June 1999. We have no right to talk of an ethical foreign policy unless we are prepared to ratify those conventions. The convention prohibits all forms of child slavery, including bonded labour as well as forced recruitment of child soldiers and the use of children for prostitution or pornography. Is there any reason for delay in the ratification process? Will the Government also press the Government of Nepal to ratify the ILO Convention 29, which I have mentioned?
Does the Minister agree that the UK could do more through the UN system; and that the issue needs to be addressed more directly within the anti-poverty strategies of donors? Does the noble Baroness support, therefore, as part of the UN's current review of human rights the fundamental reform of the present working group on contemporary forms of slavery--it has done valuable work but has perhaps fulfilled its work--and, better still, the replacement with a special rapporteur of the Human Rights Commission?
Thirdly, using Nepal as an example I should like to press the Minister on the role of the Department for International Development in removing bonded labour. The noble Baroness will know that the Secretary of State is concerned about the issue and that the elimination of poverty is high on the agenda. But adapting the DfID programme is a painfully slow process. I know that a new office was set up last April, and that many more staff have been recruited, but after conversations with the ambassador and DfID representatives in Kathmandu, I am not convinced that we are adequately supporting the active participants in the democratic process.
My main message to the Government is this. Please take advantage of the consensus which now exists between the political parties on the issue of bonded labour. It is an ideal time for Her Majesty's Government, with their historic role in the region, to identify the causes of poverty in Nepal and to become associated with the forces of change. As DfID knows, this has as much relevance to good governance at national level as to poverty alleviation on the ground.
One of the priorities in Nepal and similar countries is the need for comprehensive regional surveys which, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, will know, can identify bonded labourers and help to establish government rehabilitation programmes--perhaps under ILO auspices. It is important to remember that those responsible for keeping people in debt bondage must
NGOs today, like INSEC in Nepal, are valuable vehicles of democratic change. More and more they are not just human rights or development agencies but a means of encouraging governments through popular participation. I urge the Government to maintain their present support for civil society which is also a powerful diplomatic tool.
In conclusion, everyone knows how much this Government, encouraged by Churches and non-governmental organisations, have already devoted to the gradual cancellation of the official debts of the poorest countries--a main plank in their efforts to end poverty. It seems logical to pay equal attention to the plight of the very poorest people and to practical ways of relieving their debt and their freedom in the face of one of the most vicious and enduring forms of injustice the world has seen.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on arranging the debate. When I was in West Africa last year, I was not infrequently told that there was no slavery here, but there was over the border, in another country. However, a closer look at labour practices shows that these cruel forms of exploitation are not only found in faraway places.
First, I should like to acknowledge the work of the most long-established of all the international organisations, the ILO. It was probably the first tripartite organisation, drawing on the experience of workers' organisations as well as of employers and governments, as my noble friend Lord Brett may say, with his great experience. The ILO's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is supported by core labour standards, as well as various conventions, the implementation of which would eliminate the most prevalent current form of slavery--bonded labour--so comprehensively described in the sub-continent by the noble Earl. Implementation is, of course, the key word. Can the Minister tell us more about the Government's strategy for supporting the implementation of the core labour standards in respect of bonded labour? What prospect is there of European Union co-operation in the process?
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. I hope that we are on the way to ratifying it. However, to come closer to Europe, trafficking in women and children--it seems to appear wherever economic breakdown has propelled vulnerable people into illusory promises of work abroad--is, sadly, now found in many Balkan countries. When I had the honour to lead the UK delegation at the previous United Nations conference on women in 1995, one of the unanimously agreed parts of the platform we
Finally, over the years there have been instances in the UK of people brought in with special status as domestic employees of foreign nationals, a small number of whom were kept in conditions of slavery here in London from which they were too frightened to leave because of the insecurity of their entry status. When I was departmentally responsible for the issue several distressing cases came to light. However, the issue was not addressed until this Government changed the system to allow those domestic workers to change their employer without fear of deportation or of being handed back to him. They also made interim arrangements to safeguard the position of people who were admitted under the previous regime. In that, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton--he is not in his place--in pressing for action to remedy the problem. I have met many victims. I am sure that this House will agree that it is an example of independent pressure from the Cross Benches at its best; and it is an example of a responsive government.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on initiating this debate on some of the most brutal forms of man's inhumanity to man. I shall focus on two areas where I have first-hand experience: Burma and Sudan. There are many excellent reports on Burma from human rights organisations, but sometimes individual stories speak most eloquently. In our visits to the Karen and Karenni people, we meet many men and women who give compelling, detailed accounts of their experiences of forced labour, often in situations so brutal that many die. I have time for only two examples.
I turn to Sudan. Some forms of slavery have been endemic in much of Africa since time immemorial. But slavery in Sudan escalated in 1994 when the Islamist National Islamic Front--the NIF--encouraged Arab tribesmen in the borderlands between north and south Sudan to fight a jihad against the African people in the south. They armed the Arabs with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and provided tanks, horses and camels. The local African Dinka tribes could not defend themselves with traditional spears against such sophisticated attacks and the era of massive slave raids began.
We first encountered the effects of the raids in May 1995, visiting Nyamlell in Bahr-El-Ghazal--one of the areas designated as a "no go" region by the NIF for Operation Lifeline Sudan and other aid organisations. We found the township totally destroyed--with 82 men killed; 282 women and children taken as slaves; every building and all crops burnt; cattle stolen or killed. We met survivors and relatives of women and children who had been taken as slaves. We have returned many times to this area and others in the slave raid regions. We have been present when raids have been taking place all around us. We have walked through villages still burning in the aftermath, among the corpses of those who could not escape.
I offer one personal story. Abuk Keer is a young blind mother. When she heard the slave raiders advancing on her village, with pounding of horses' hooves and the shooting of guns, she tried to escape with her two children. Blind, she stumbled and fell. They were captured and taken north. She was abused on the way and abandoned, because, being blind, she was no use. But her children were taken on into slavery. When I met her, she was desperate. She said:
There are peaceable Arab traders who come south to trade and graze their cattle in the dry season. Since the escalation of slave raids, they have agreed with the local Dinka communities to try to locate and to bring back women and children who have been enslaved. They charge a price as they cannot abduct the slaves from their owners. But many of the African
We have since met many hundreds of women and children who have been enslaved, rescued and returned to their families. We have helped local communities who have lost everything in the raids, by giving them resources to buy back their loved ones from slavery. For this we have been criticised--by those who have not been with us and who have not seen what we have seen.
The government of Sudan--the NIF--condemn us, denying that there is slavery; but there is enough evidence from other and diverse sources to enable the United Nations to include slavery as part of its general indictment of the NIF regime. David Hoile, in the publications of the pro-NIF organisation, the British Sudanese Public Affairs Council, which are distributed widely, including to many of your Lordships, attacks us virulently and me personally. Others condemn our policy of redeeming those who have been enslaved.
My Lords, if you had been with us, I suggest that you would believe that slavery exists in Sudan today; and I even dare to believe that you might not condemn us for helping to rescue those slaves who can be freed. If you had seen the evidence, such as African women with half-Arab babies fathered by their masters, or boys able to speak Arabic better than their native Dinka language, often with scars such as Achilles tendons cut so that they could not run away, you might feel that we were not doing such a bad thing when we help to enable them to be reunited with their families, in freedom.
It is said that we encourage the slave raids. That is not true. They would occur anyway as part of the NIF's policy of jihad. It is said that our intervention pushes up the price of slaves. That is not true. The price has gone down from an average per slave of five head of cattle to three. Is it not terrible way to talk like this at the turn of the new millennium; to have to say the words, "The price of freedom of a woman or a child in Sudan today is, on average, three head of cattle"?
Of course, the redemption of slaves is not the answer to the problem of slavery in Sudan today. It is only first aid. The urgent priority is for slavery to be abolished and for everyone currently enslaved to be freed. It is urgent, because for many it is already too late. On my last visit, talking to the Arab traders who brought back over 500 slaves, they told us that many other slaves had been sold to other owners in the north and then sold abroad, never to be traced and rescued. Therefore, will the Government please press the NIF regime to open
It is outrageous to have to talk in these terms at the beginning of this century. Can the Government, in the land where the name of William Wilberforce is now legendary--how good to see that name appearing on the list of Speakers today--please take a lead and do everything possible to prevail on the NIF regime to put an end to this abhorrent practice of the slave raids and to free all those currently enslaved? It is a great tragedy that this debate today is necessary. I hope that it will not be in vain.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for giving us an opportunity to debate this subject. I have lived in the Bristol area since 1941. Bristol is not proud of its association with the slave trade. Indeed, on one occasion I went to the city archivist to try to obtain material. It was like trying to open an oyster without any kind of tool. There was great reluctance even to acknowledge that the slave trade went on.
We need to remember that because on Sunday there was a programme on the BBC about the dispute in the Pennsylvanian anthracite field and the formation of the union there. It showed photographs of little boys aged 11, 12 and 13--the breaker boys--who sorted out the anthracite from the stone, slate and so on.
In our own country, when people, even young children, were working a 60 hour week, we were told this nonsense that the working week could not be cut because all the profit on the goods was made in the last few hours. We should remember that situation and, when we tell other people how to run their affairs, take care that these matters are not brought up so that we are accused of neo-colonialism. For example, on telling other people that they should not burn fossil fuels if they can avoid it, they may say: you have raised a very good standard of living over the years by doing it yourselves and now you are telling us to lay off. We should approach the matter with a certain amount of humility. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has given some very good illustrations and detail.
My interest in the Sudanese situation was such that an all-party group was formed a year or two ago and I was elected vice-chairman. I had a 100 per cent attendance record because that was the only meeting that took place. Towards the end of the meeting I was indelicate enough to ask who was supporting the British Sudanese Public Affairs Council. It turned out to be a PR front, funded by the Sudanese Government. They and the embassy here engage in a bombardment of literature giving their point of view. I am afraid that a good deal of the material is very questionable. I do not know who is advising them on public relations, but they ought to get the sack, because recently they have questioned the integrity, decency and honesty of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The situation is so bizarre that one wonders what on earth is going on. The noble Baroness has been upbraided for her work with Christian groups.
I welcome the presence of two right reverend Prelates. The visit by the Primate to the Sudan was a seminal event for the Christian communities there and raised morale tremendously. We welcome the interest being shown by the Bishops' Bench.
There is not just the question of humanity towards other people. Christians have a very great vested interest. On 1st December 1997, at col. 1224 of the Official Report, I quoted the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Sudan saying that the persecution of Christians was thriving throughout the globe and that Christians were now the most persecuted group in the world. We should remember that fact and do what we can to help our brothers and sisters abroad. He said:
We should do as much as possible to influence the situation. Can the Minister assure us that the Government are seized of this problem, not only in the Sudan but in other parts of the world, and are prepared to work with our partners in other countries to resolve the situation as soon as possible?
There were good and bad slave owners, but it was slavery that was condemned, not just a misuse of powers. We have heard examples of flagrant abuses against human rights, whereby many hundreds and thousands of people are held against their will or in slavery. Some practices can appear at first sight to be benevolent, but they may be more insidious because they lead to such an erosion of human dignity and denial of self-determination that they become forms of contemporary slavery. I shall give some examples.
A parent has a number of children to feed and takes up the offer of a place in another family for a child, believing it is a way for that child to be fed, housed and educated, but the child experiences physical and often sexual abuse as a slave of the family.
A migrant worker agrees to travel to another province or country in order to work. He then discovers he is expected to work unpaid on the basis that the cost of transport and accommodation must be covered. How can he ever get out of that situation? Some of these situations exist not just in other parts of the world but also here. Sometimes whole communities can be affected.
I remember sitting under the meeting tree with a group of village elders in El Salvador who were agonising over the future of the village. In a situation of need they had been assisted through a heifer project conducted by Christian Aid. Each family had been given a pregnant heifer and was able to produce a surplus of food and to sell it in the market. For the first time, they realised how working together could benefit a community and, in doing so, they were able to resist the approaches of a large company that had been buying up the land around the village in order to plant coffee. Then there was a grave suspicion that that company had flooded the market with cheap food, which meant that the surplus that the village provided was no longer sufficient or could be bought. What were they to do? They were promised work and their children were promised education, but they knew that the processing plant and access to the markets for the coffee were in the hands of the company. Their self-determination would be lost, their land and their traditional way of life would be gone and they would be at the mercy of the company. Was that a price worth paying?
But the debate calls not only for a repetition of the ills of society or evidence of corrupt and exploitative practices. It is to call attention to the case for action. Therefore, I ask Her Majesty's Government to press urgently for a permanent treaty-monitoring committee to be established in the way that has now been set up for the most recently adopted United Nations human rights instruments. Currently the only
One of the most powerful ways of combating such practices is by reducing the vulnerability, poverty and powerlessness of those most likely to be caught up in slavery. An effective legal framework and access to justice for all citizens should be universally available. Education, not only in marketing skills, but also in human rights and citizenship should be encouraged. Community development could give confidence and the ability to press for self-determination. Credit unions and small loan facilities prevent the decline into irreversible debt. New agricultural methods and co-operative ventures in processing and marketing make the most of resources. In that area, the debate which follows this one on the creation of sustainable livelihoods as the spearhead of the Government's anti-poverty strategy, will be extremely valuable.
With Her Majesty's Government's promise of the release of debt for the poorer countries, the time seems to be right for pressure to be brought to bear on the governments of those countries to put into effect measures to relieve the worst of the poverty within them. Again, a proper monitoring system, possibly with the aid of NGOs working with vulnerable groups, will be needed.
The particular case of child labour has already been mentioned. I am not convinced that the answer to that problem lies in sanctions, boycotts or trade restrictions. Instead, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to support child protection measures, including compulsory education and limited working hours. I plead also for ways to be found to encourage the sale in this country of fairly traded goods, particularly those which include a profit sharing scheme for employees and give assurances about the welfare of any children employed in them.
Until recently I carried responsibility for the work of the Methodist Church in our overseas relationships, both through the Missionary Society and the Methodist Relief and Development Fund. I am aware of the immense amount of work taking place through hundreds of local partnerships. That work is extremely valuable, but it must be of limited effect unless unscrupulous operators can be prevented from taking advantage of the vulnerable. There are contemporary forms of slavery today, but the worst slave master of all is that of basic human need which is beyond the means of the individual to satisfy. It is that which opens people to exploitation, and its alleviation must be the work of us all.
We have these high quality debates, we go away and we all feel better and say, "Oh yes, our debates are the best in the world". But our debate last week on international affairs was hardly mentioned in the press. Someone could do something about that. Therefore, I make the humble suggestion that someone, perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, should ask for an interview with the Minister following the debate, to insist at close quarters that something actually be done.
I am such a humble admirer of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that I can hardly speak for admiration. I go to a prayer group and we pray for her, because she is usually delivering medical supplies in some dangerous area of the world. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is of course the son of my old friend Lord Hinchingbrooke, who would have been proud of him tonight. Lord Hinchingbrooke made one mistake in his life--I still refer to him by that name--in deciding to leave this House, of which he was already an ornament, and go elsewhere.
There are wonderful people speaking in this debate. I am only rather surprised--although not terribly surprised--to find that in the List of Speakers the last on the list, apart from the Front Bench representatives, is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I hope that there is nothing symbolic in that, if we have reached the point where we put last the descendant of the great Wilberforce. Perhaps someone will explain why he was put last, long after people such as myself who know nothing whatever about this issue compared to him.
We are discussing the problem of slavery. My qualifications are brief, although I am probably the only person here who ever met Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. It is always great to boast about something, but one could always find someone who says, "Oh yes, I knew Kitchener". However, it is not awfully likely because I met him 90 years ago and there are not many noble Lords here who would have been going strong at that time. I was a small boy at a great garden party given at Osterley Park by my grandmother, Lady Jersey. The great man came across to me, leant over and said, "And who are you, my little man?" I said, "I'm the grandson of grandma"--that flummoxed him, at any rate. Otherwise, apart from that episode, for his many achievements he was deservedly known as Kitchener of Khartoum. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, agrees with me that I have had little connection with the country for which she has done so much.
What can Britain do? That is what we shall hear tonight. I do not expect too much. If I were the Minister, in a way I should be rather sorry that so many suggestions have been made, yet in a way she might be glad because she could lose us by going into the detail. I have described her as the most skilful debater of our time, and I am afraid that she may befuddle us with her debating skills tonight. It all comes back to this: is anything going to happen; are we going to do more? Perhaps I may express it in the plainest possible way: will the noble Baroness be able to tell us whether this Government--this revered Labour Government--are doing anything more than was done by their predecessors?
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I have listened to the earlier speeches with horror and concern--horror at the stories which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others have told; and horror and concern at my own inadequacy to speak in this debate. I had thought that it was a debate more about child labour, and I confess to being not an expert on slavery or exploitation. My only solution can be to be very brief.
I have one piece of evidence and information which I should like to place on the record. I refer to the official UNICEF statistics in 1998 which reported that the number of trafficked children who were being taken across into Gabon and were intercepted at the Benin border rose from 117 in 1995 to 802 in 1997. Most of those children were being taken as domestic workers, some to work for market traders as cheap labour. Thirty-seven per cent of the families who sent those children said that they could not earn enough to satisfy the essential needs of their families, and that was why they were sending away a child. Many of the children were maltreated and one or two died of hardship on the journey.
I shall not weary the House by repeating the concerns which other noble Lords have expressed. However, in the context of my intention to talk about the more modest problems of child labour, I should like to raise two caveats about our being too patronising or too inclined to interfere inappropriately in the affairs of other countries.
First, it seems to me that if we--one of the richest countries in the world--are going to criticise for their human rights record other countries which often are very poor, we should do well first to set our own house in order. I believe that that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe.
I shall relate very briefly a personal anecdote. For 35 years I was chairman of a group of tea estates in Malawi. I remember one day walking into the office with the manager. I saw a little boy cutting grass and said, "Hey, why have we got young children working here?" The manager said to the lad in Chinyanga, "Why are you working here? Why aren't you in school?" The boy looked up with a great big grin spread across his face and said, "I would much rather be doing this than be in school". Of course, I immediately made a rule that no children should be employed during school hours. However, it was explained to me that if a child in Malawi was left an orphan, as there is no kind of benefits network the custom was that he was taken in either by his neighbours or by the extended family. However, the child was expected to contribute to family expenses. That issue concerns a lesser evil in that the child had a home and family, albeit he was expected to do some work and earn a living.
I go even further. I believe that appropriate work for teenage children for a reasonable number of hours, which does not interfere with their education, can be most beneficial. Indeed, I had that experience when growing up during the war. I used to spend half of every holiday working on a farm. I have to say that I am extremely grateful for that experience and would, if I had my life again, want to have it that way.
I return for a moment to Africa. The population growth in sub-Saharan Africa has caused the social and economic problems that we see today. In Malawi, which I know very well, the average age of the population is 14, and food production is no longer adequate to feed that population. The only solution is job creation. That point has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and by others. However, who wants to invest in Malawi? Here I am trespassing on the next debate. It seems to me that one of the most essential tools we have for preventing the exploitation of children through child labour is to enable the grown-ups to be able to earn enough to support their families. In order to do that, we must help them to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said--I may get this wrong but I shall try to quote correctly--the worst slave master in the world is need.
Finally, I turn to the question of putting our own house in order. How do we have the crust to criticise desperately poor people in Benin for doing the only thing they know to make ends meet, while we in this country--one of the richest in the world--have accepted for decades a standard of children's homes in which children are abused and which are an international disgrace; while we accept that 20 per cent of our children grow up in homes without a father and 40 per cent in homes where they are in recognisable
Lord Brett: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this debate, and I hope to respond to one or two of the points that he made. I am also moved by the words of the previous speaker--the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.
It is easy to say that child labour is in some way better than no labour at all for children. That is not a view I share. Much of the child labour in the world is in jobs which did not exist 50 years ago. It is not true that carpet-making by children is historically endemic in Bangladesh, Nepal or India. It has become an imported form of child labour in substitution for adults.
However, whether the issue is child labour, slavery or bonded labour, four things are required for a country and for an international community to be able to resolve the problem. They are, first, a good legal framework, both nationally and internationally; secondly, good and effective policing of that; thirdly, resources--taking children out of jobs in India if there is no school available to educate them is not the answer; therefore, there must be education together with the removal of children from work; and, fourthly, and most important of all, political will. The state of Kerala in India seems to have achieved more in respect of education of children than the other 27 states around them. That has to do with political will.
I should like to deal with the three countries named by noble Lords; that is, Nepal, Sudan and Burma. I add a fourth, for which I believe we have a major responsibility; namely, Swaziland. I, too, have visited Nepal. I believe that there is political will there, and it existed with the previous government. All governments in Nepal are several shades to the left, to put it mildly, of new Labour, old Labour or any party in Europe that does not have "communist" in its name. Nepal has the political will, but it does not have the resources. Indeed, I believe that I can forecast that Nepal will eradicate child labour before India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. That is because, first, there are only 100,000 child labourers in the carpet industry and all those are in Kathmandu. Secondly, the employers of that industry have decided that the premium in the Frankfurt carpet market for being able to prove that no children are employed will give them a commercial edge over Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The fact that there are only 100,000 such labourers makes it an easier problem to eradicate than in much larger countries. There is a very good, determined, employer-led, child labour eradication programme in that country.
The noble Earl made the point that Nepal has not ratified ILO Conventions 29 and 108. On previous occasions, I have declared my interest as the vice-chairman of the governing body of the ILO. The good news is that Nepal does not have to do that because, as
For the first time this year, the ILO will have a global report--and this will happen every year--on one of those four standards. So we shall have a spotlight on the world to see whether or not it is improving. Similarly, governments will have to respond to the ILO. Employers' associations and trade unions in those countries and, through them, NGOs will have the opportunity to make observations as to whether a government are being economical with the truth as to what the position is.
I believe that the Minister will support--perhaps she will confirm this--the idea of taking that declaration of the ILO and embedding it as UN-wide policy. That can be done at Geneva 2000, which is the social summit plus five to be held in Geneva in June. It would mean that that automatically applies to the World Bank and the IMF which accept that child labour and slavery are wrong but are not too sure about some of the other core labour standards. There is also the General Assembly Millennium in the latter part of this year which is to deal with poverty eradication. Again, it seems to me that that declaration could be embedded or reinforced there.
I say that because those rights are enabling rights. They do not impose on a member state a minimum wage or a cost. But any country should be able to allow its people to belong to trade unions and ensure that people are not discriminated against nor endure forced labour.
I know that the Secretary of State for International Development visited Nepal last year. I strongly support the present Government. What they and the DfID have done in the area of overseas development assistance is nothing less than magnificent. I have only one difference of view which was mentioned earlier. I believe that had we taken a soft line on child labour 100 years ago, I am sure that the predecessor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, would have met the argument that economic circumstances were such that children up chimneys was something that perhaps could be eradicated simply by education of parents and the employing of chimney sweeps. My view is that it is not done that way. It is done by setting targets, as have been set for primary education by 2015, and by the kind of sensitive bilateral policies that the current Government, through DfID, are applying.
I turn now to Burma. I shall not regale your Lordships with horror stories similar to those told to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, which are reflected in this report. This is the report of the commission of inquiry which cost 0.5 million dollars. Three world-class jurists looked at what happened in Burma. It is a horror story. I agree with those who say that the way through the problem is by assistance and persuasion and that, normally, sanctions are not helpful. But there are exceptions and situations in which sanctions are the only way forward, and I believe that Burma is such a case.
I agree that the regime in Sudan is terrible. But I become slightly unnerved when we seem to be posing Christianity versus Islam. I am sure that it is not intended but sometimes it sounds like that. The truth is that the Koran outlawed slavery in 1400, which is 400 years before the predecessor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, was able to achieve the same in this country. But, of course, there can be corruption of any dogma or belief. That is the problem, not the belief itself.
Finally, I turn to Swaziland. The Swazi national council, which is an hereditary council, and the king have passed an administrative order which says that the village heads in Swaziland will have the right, with fine or eviction as the penalty, to demand unpaid labour from Swazi villagers. That was passed in the last six months. It will be the cause of a complaint at the ILO. But as Swaziland is an area where the British have a traditional influence, I hope that we shall use our good offices with the king and government of Swaziland to seek the repeal of that particular legislation which is a 21st century form of slavery.
Lord Wilberforce: My Lords, the great advantage of being so low on the List of Speakers is that I have been able to listen to a number of very impressive and moving speeches before making my own. It is quite clear after the speeches we have heard, and no one can be left in any doubt, that bonded labour exists on a very large scale and is quite simply a form of slavery.
That is a chilling reminder of the fact that "modernise" does not always mean "improve". But it is surely the case that, although many of the classic forms of slavery--chattel slavery--may have receded somewhat, they have not been abolished; they still exist; and we must continue to fight them. But the
In addition, it is true that it is more difficult to get rid of bonded labour than it is even chattel servitude. In the case of chattel servitude, you strike off the chains and the man is free. But in the case of bonded labour, you are up against a whole series, a whole complex, of economic and political considerations. You cannot just throw the child or the man out on the street. You have to provide a system of good employment, schools for the children and some system of land reform so that people can earn a living. Bonded labour certainly is servitude and in many ways it is worse. The more we can make it known to the outside world as such, the better.
I shall not expand on individual instances. I do not have the experience to do so. Everything that needs to be said on this matter has been said by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I want to expand on two particular aspects of the matter.
The first relates to human rights. Whatever can be said of the much-maligned 20th century, and much has been said, surely one of the very good things--and I am surprised that nobody has commented on it--is that it has been the century, or the half century at any rate, of human rights and the development of human rights as a movement, internationally and nationally. Of course, that was consequent upon the Nazi atrocities but, nevertheless, it took its roots from that and has brought to people's consciousness a whole new world of human rights and obligations.
As we were reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, the instruments of human rights all mention and include liberation from slavery and servitude as one of the important human rights to be preserved. The Universal Declaration, the covenants of 1966, the European Convention on Human Rights and others all include slavery and servitude.
It is a great advantage for those advocating the abolition of slavery to have it brought under the umbrella of human rights; but there are also disadvantages. All other human rights are subject to reservations and some derogations in specific circumstances. They tend to be discussed in a political atmosphere in which questions of western values are raised; divisions between north and south. It is said that those rights are not capable of being introduced
In international law it is what is called "jus cogens". It is recognised as absolute and not subject to derogation. Even the International Court of Justice in a case in Barcelona recognised slavery as being of jus cogens.
I am sure the Government agree that in all contexts in which human rights generally are raised, any issue connected with slavery should be separately presented with its own facts and supporting legal arguments, and not simply subsumed into a general human rights presentation. That that is necessary can be illustrated from a number of examples; I give just one. It has often been the case that in Commonwealth conferences of ministers and lawyers human rights are raised for discussion. They are in general form and seldom contain a specific reference to slavery.
The Bangalore principles--probably well known to your Lordships--were agreed in 1998 after 10 years of discussion in previous conferences. It was a case of judicial colloquium, not a meeting of ministers. It resulted in the formulation of the Bangalore principles which are well-known and influential throughout the world. They were formulated in 23 paragraphs which refer to different kinds of human rights--apartheid, women's rights, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination--in comprehensive language. But there is not one reference to slavery or the deprivation of liberty. That is no reflection on the people who framed those paragraphs. They thought that slavery was a thing apart; that it does not enter into the general field of human rights. For slavery to be put in a category by itself as an absolute right and not simply mixed up with different and less grave abuses would be an advantage both in public relations and in negotiations.
I want to say a few words about enforcement and monitoring. Much has been said already and I shall not take up a great deal of time. It is worth remembering that there is an enormous apparatus of legal constructs prohibiting slavery and servitude. I believe 300 international instruments deal with it. Many states have passed legislation. Recently a working group of the United Nations--Anti-Slavery International--in which I am proud to declare an interest, submitted a paper showing what those mechanisms amounted to. That paper consisted of 92 pages of laws, covenants and conventions.
So there is no lack of legal foundation. What is lacking is the organisation for monitoring and checking. In the time available I cannot go into detail. I associate myself with what was said by other speakers. There is a great need to improve the situation. I hope the noble Baroness will give some indication that she is going to consider it.
I have exceeded my time and conclude by joining with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Sandwich for introducing the debate. Where would this House be without his devotion and experience in these matters?
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for giving us the opportunity to consider what can be done to eliminate the practice of bonded labour and other forms of contemporary slavery. Many noble Lords highlighted the issues, about which there is no dispute. Once in a while we have a debate in this House where there is no disagreement whatever. It is a delight to hear so many noble Lords expressing their concern.
The worst form of slavery affects those who are least able to fend for themselves. Children are the most vulnerable group. It falls on all civilised nations to say that we shall never compromise on the well-being of children.
The issues affecting children are not difficult to identify. But before we touch on that subject, it is important to acknowledge the important work being done in this field by the Save the Children Fund and Anti-Slavery International among the many organisations that not only express their concern, but demonstrate in a practical way how to confront such issues.
Enslavement of children and young people takes many forms, including selling of children to work for others and in effect severing family ties; bonded labour, paying off their own or their families' debts; trafficking of children within or between countries for work for which they are then not paid. That is often under false pretences where they and their families are assured that children will do light work and be educated, whereas in fact they work within the sex industry or other forms of work such as domestic labourers, in industry or agriculture. Many child soldiers are forcibly conscripted into armies.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is right when he says that we should be aware of cultural norms in other countries. It is common practice worldwide for employers to give employees salary advances, and that should not necessarily be considered as bonded labour. It becomes bonded labour when there is no realistic prospect of paying off the debt.
In Pakistan's football industry, many families take advances from employers and then work to pay them back. However, the amounts are relatively small and can be paid back. None of the 428 families interviewed in the Save the Children Fund's research project in 1997 said that they were bound to their employers for ever. By contrast, many families migrate from the Thar desert of Pakistan to other parts of the Sindh Province
Experience in Nepal, which was explained earlier, shows that even where people have been released from debt bondage when their debts have been paid off through government or NGO programmes, many have taken up new debts within months because they are too poor to survive otherwise. Bonded labour therefore needs two key types of action--enactment and enforcement of law and skills training; and the provision of employment opportunities for business development so that livelihoods are secure and families do not have to send one or more members into bonded labour; for example, through community development work focusing on natural resource protection, livestock and credit within the Thar desert of Pakistan. Save the Children Fund's partner organisation, Thardeep, has helped reduce the flow of families migrating for work and getting involved in bonded labour elsewhere in the Sindh district of Pakistan.
I turn now to the trafficking of women and children into conditions of slavery. The 1999 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography drew attention to the trafficking of children in the south-east Asia region. The Special Rapporteur found that all six countries in the south-east Asian peninsula--China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos--have been affected by such trafficking.
Anti-Slavery International has condemned the trafficking of children to the United Arab Emirates to be used as child jockeys in camel races. The trafficking of children is an increasingly global problem. The children, who are often as young as six years old, are sold by their parents or relatives, taken on false pretences or, in some cases, actually kidnapped.
The boys are often underfed and subjected to crash diets before a race so that they will be as light as possible. Some children have reported that they have been beaten while working as camel jockeys, and others have been seriously injured during races. It is illegal in the United Arab Emirates to use camel jockeys under the age of 14 or weighing less than seven stone. But, despite this law, there is evidence that the practice continues.
In August 1999, Gulf News reported that a four year-old camel jockey was found abandoned and close to death in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. The report of the US Department of State on Human Rights recently stated that,
Perhaps I may briefly mention the problem of Trokosi, which is a form of slavery that has been practised by the inhabitants of the south-east Volta region of Ghana for many centuries. The practice deems it customary to send girls as young as seven to live in shrines with priests, as reparation for sins committed by a family member. Although the girl herself did not commit a crime, she works all day in the priest's field and provides the other services of a wife, including sex and child rearing.
Although a law was passed in September 1998 prohibiting anyone from being sent into ritual slavery, no shrine or priest has ever been prosecuted. International Needs Ghana estimates that there are at least 1,800 women and girls still subjected to this form of slavery in Ghana today. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example. Mercy Senahe is 23 years old and has had four children who were born in the Avakpe Shrine in Ghana's Volta region. She spent 12 years in the shrine until she was released by International Needs Ghana, and is now training as a dressmaker. She says:
Bonded labour is specifically outlawed in India under the 1976 bonded labour system. Nothing much has been said about that by other noble Lords. What we need is a commitment on child slavery, which is covered by Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, I understand, ratified by all but two countries--the USA and Somalia--and which states that children have the right to protection from economic exploitation. We must pursue this particular issue vigorously with the governments who have signed the convention. Governments have a duty to all children and young people to end both slavery and other forms of harmful work. Other key international instruments include a number of conventions that have already been mentioned.
On trade policy we need to ensure that British businesses operating internationally are not sourcing products through their own lengthy supply chains made with bonded child or adult labour, or involving other forms of labour abuses.
I am aware that my time is rushing by, but perhaps I may endorse the plea that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. It is a scandal that we have entered the 21st century and bonded labour and other contemporary forms of slavery have not been eradicated. The UN Secretary-General is right to remind us that now,
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is still in his place because I, for one, can assure him that I never knew Kitchener of Khartoum and I believe that the same can be said for the Minister who is to respond to the debate this evening. However, in the same spirit of affection and respect for what he said, I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on tabling this debate. I have had the privilege now for a number of years of congratulating him on introducing important debates, and tonight is no exception. It has allowed us to spotlight the barbaric practice of slavery.
Although this inhumane and repellent practice is outlawed by a substantial body of international law--a point well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce--it is a widespread and persistent horror, which we have not yet eradicated in the 21st century. The word "slavery" covers a variety of egregious human rights violations. In addition to traditional slavery and the slave trade, tonight we have heard that such abuses include the sale of children, child prostitution, exploitation of child labour--and, indeed, there is the use of children in armed conflicts which has not, I believe, been mentioned--debt bondage, forced labour and the trafficking and enslavement of women and children.
According to Anti-Slavery International, to whose work I should like pay tribute, bonded labour or debt bondage is the most widely used method of enslaving people today. It has existed for hundreds of years and still continues to affect millions of people. Although it is specifically prohibited under Article 1 of the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices similar to slavery, in its 1999 report the UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery noted that some 20 million men, women and children are still held in debt bondage and that the issue has not been effectively addressed at the international level.
In the light of the UN working group's conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister what action the Government are taking in accordance with the recommendation of Anti-Slavery International to work bilaterally and through the International Labour Office to help countries where bonded labour is still practised, to carry out detailed regional surveys to identify and rehabilitate bonded labourers?
Projects to combat the trap of poverty and to stop people being caught in debt bondage should be complemented by a commitment to implement laws which ensure that individuals who use bonded labour are charged and prosecuted. Can the Minister say what
I should like to say a few words about trafficking in human life. This is a truly global plague, the victims of which can find themselves in London or Paris, as well as Laos or the Philippines. Traffickers deny that all persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights, as stated in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. They deny their victims the most basic rights: freedom of movement, freedom of association, and, all too frequently, one of the most fundamental freedoms--the freedom to have a childhood.
Trafficking involves a vicious cycle in which victims are forced, lured or tricked into leaving their home countries, shuffled across one or more international borders and enslaved, with human rights violations occurring at every step of the way, their hopes and fears preyed upon and their hopes ultimately shattered.
It is to be hoped that globalisation will ensure that there are fewer dark corners in the world in which the perpetrators of this evil crime can hide. New technologies of communication are creating a world in which information flows more and more freely. As in all cases of slavery, human rights workers can no longer be prevented from bringing information out of oppressive countries, because they do not have to carry it physically across the border. This is one of the contexts in which our national response can be formulated. I look forward to hearing the Minister describe what policies the Government are pursuing in that respect.
A number of noble Lords focused on the trafficking of women and children and sexual slavery. The trafficking of women and children into different forms of slavery, including domestic and sexual slavery, is one of the most reprehensible and appalling forms of slavery. Therefore, I ask what action is being taken to ensure that the victims of trafficking do not suffer and that those who are responsible are punished, for these women do not represent an illicit migration problem; they represent a human rights violation.
In this respect, the resolution condemning sexual trafficking passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE last July, which urges participating states to punish traffickers and which raises public awareness of the crime of trafficking, is most welcome. What priority are the Government giving to the need to combat this pernicious and odious form of slavery, which has become one of the fastest- growing criminal enterprises in the world, given that an estimated 1 million or 2 million women and girls are trafficked annually around the world, usually for the purpose of forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation?
In the short time available, I turn to child labour. Although the exploitation of innocents for personal and monetary gain must be regarded as one of the most invidious forms of evil that we confront today, the ILO
In that context, can the Minister bring the House up to date with the Government's position on the ratification of ILO Convention 182, on the worst forms of child labour? I understand that the Government have continued to indicate a willingness to ratify that convention, which was adopted unanimously at the ILO convention in June 1999. I may be wrong, but I think that the reason for the hesitation is that it would mean that boys, and indeed girls, could no longer volunteer for the army at 16. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond with good news for the House this evening.
My noble friend Lady Cox has moved to a higher status for the winding-up stage of the debate; she is now sitting on the Woolsack. But that in no way minimises the respect that I and the House have for the expertise that she brings to these debates. I pay tribute once again to my noble friend who, through her organisation, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has freed more than 1,200 slaves in the Sudan. We have heard from her again and note that there are still tens of thousands of people enslaved in the Sudan. Although Sudanese law prohibits slavery, the Government have done little to stop it.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that if it were not for the constant publicity, hard work and diligence of my noble friend Lady Cox, and of many others who have spoken in this debate and who work so assiduously on the subject, many of these issues would go by the board. It is important to hold these debates, even with such a small attendance and so little immediate press interest, to continue to pressure, to continue to raise these issues, to continue to make sure that on all sides of the House, in a non-partisan way, we work to resolve many of the appalling problems that we have heard about and that we are discussing this evening, because they are challenges to governments of all political complexions.
In that context, I would simply focus finally on the vitally important message that the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, gave this evening, that international action to address slavery will not be successful unless it tackles its root causes. Poverty feeds abusive labour practice. Poverty and the exploitation of desperation are at the heart of bonded labour. Poverty particularly affects women and is often at the heart of the exploitation of women. The poverty of parents is at the heart of the decision to sell their children. The victims of slavery-like abuses are generally from the poorest, the most vulnerable, social groups. The cancer of slavery is a symptom of the malignancy of poverty, and the two must be treated together.
There will always be those who are steeped in avarice, who are willing to exploit the vulnerable and the desperate, and in the process to rob their victims of their money, their livelihood and, most importantly,
I wish to respond straight away to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because he asked what we are going to do. I thank him for his flattering comments, but can only say that I shall try to bring clarity, and try very hard not to befuddle. The noble Earl's erudition and acute mind would not in any event fall prey to any blandishments made by me.
As to the position on the list of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, I remind the noble Earl that the best wine is often left to last. May I add what a privilege it is for me to respond to a debate on this issue in which the noble and learned Lord has taken part. History has perhaps in this House come full circle.
I am pleased to say that there is a huge similarity between the views expressed and those of Her Majesty's Government. I join the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in saying what a pleasure it is to see that that is so in a debate on such important issues. Let me, then, be quite clear about the Government's view. Bonded labour comes in many guises. But, whatever the terms, it is a form of slavery. It contravenes human rights. It is unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government, as it is clearly unacceptable to the speakers in this debate.
I agree that alleviating the plight of those trapped in such labour practices must be a priority for Britain and the international community, although the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was right to remind us of the importance of understanding the cultural norms that may be of influence.
Few would disagree that the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade represents one of the most significant human rights achievements. Regrettably, the forefather of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, did not, two centuries ago, put an end to the practice of slavery. As many speakers have said, slavery is no longer regulated or clearly defined, but instead exists in a range of different, sometimes hidden, ways that make it difficult to tackle.
We do not look for legal instruments alone. Practices such as slavery are outlawed by international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the European Convention on Human Rights; the Slavery Convention, as amended; and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Ratification of those instruments demonstrates the commitment of states to address such abuses. We must now rightly focus on the practical implementation of these standards as a way to achieve real change.
Let me outline what Britain is doing. First, we are addressing this issue in international fora such as the UN and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and with our European partners. Many noble Lords have made mention of this. In our bilateral relationships we strongly support the efforts of certain countries to eliminate abusive labour practices. We are providing practical help to tackle the poverty which breeds such practices. The elimination of poverty and the fulfilment of human rights are comprehensively linked. A number of speakers have echoed that thought tonight. Many of the worst instances of bonded labour are found in poorer countries.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Brett, to mention a few, have spoken of the Indian subcontinent. In Nepal and India bonded labour has been outlawed in national laws, but we are aware that enforcement of the laws varies at grass-roots level. In Nepal, the British Embassy and DfID office in Kathmandu are involved in helping the Nepalese to address this issue. Earlier this month a workshop was held in Kathmandu, funded by the British Embassy, which involved Anti-Slavery International and Nepalese NGOs. The workshop concluded that new legislation was needed. The Nepalese Prime Minister has said that he would consider this favourably. We are actively working with NGOs in Nepal to identify further projects which we can support.
Britain is the second largest bilateral aid donor to Nepal. Our programme for 1998-99 was worth £16 million. The programme is poverty focused and seeks to promote good governance, human development and rural livelihoods. It also aims to build pressure for change through better awareness and more empowered communities.
In India we are supporting the Government of Andhra Pradesh in their efforts to address this issue and we are helping them to tackle the poverty that breeds labour abuses. We have provided £2.75 million over the period 1998-99 to 2000-01 for the work in India of the International Labour Organisation's international programme for the elimination of child labour. This has strong focus on issues such as bonded labour and other forms of forced labour.
We believe that the chances of success are greater when governments have an appropriate regulatory and monitoring capacity; when civil society is fully vigilant; when the private sector is fully involved; and when the work of international organisations is co-ordinated. These are principles on which our approach is based. However, we also recognise, with concern and regret, that not all governments are committed to tackling this abuse. The worst of governments use slavery as a political tool to enforce social exclusion, marginalisation and poverty.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have said, forced labour is one of a large number of human rights violations in Burma. A report by the ILO in 1998 highlighted the use of forced labour in Burma and made three recommendations for the regime to implement. Sadly, so far, it has not done so. We shall
Her Majesty's Government have been assiduous in maintaining pressure on the Burmese Government to improve their dire human rights position. We also supported the renewal of the EU common position on measures against Burma in October for a further six months. We look forward to discussion with partners about what further measures we might take. We shall support any which are practical and effective.
We support a variety of projects in Burma promoting human rights, democracy and poverty eradication. These are carried out through local civilian organisations and NGOs. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for all the good work that she has done in these areas. We shall continue to support NGOs where appropriate, but we must bear in mind that some parts of Burma are not accessible to such groups, largely because of civil unrest due to the regime's continued oppression of ethnic minorities. Many have suggested that greater measures can be taken. I turn to the comments made by the noble Baroness in relation to Sudan.
We are concerned about continuing reports of abductions and abuses of human rights in Sudan. In April last year the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution which called on the government of Sudan to investigate reports of abduction. As a result the government of Sudan have established a committee for the eradication of abduction for women and children. We have been encouraged by the committee's work so far conducted in co-operation with UNICEF and Save the Children. On 8th December the presidents of Sudan and Uganda agreed on principles of good relations between the two countries. This includes a commitment to locate people who have been abducted and to return them.
Many have suggested trade boycotts as the answer to abusive labour practices. However, Her Majesty's Government believe that restricting trade is likely to lead to lower, not higher labour standards. The ILO has noted that sanctions can endanger rather than protect child workers by causing them to be dismissed from work and left to fend for themselves on the street, turning to more exploitative and harmful work. We cannot reduce poverty without economic growth which must also be sustainable and environmentally responsible. The poorest countries need more trade opportunities to reduce poverty, not less.
I turn to the work under way in various international fora and reply to the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords in relation to this issue. The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery is an important body, bringing together human rights experts, intergovernmental organisations, governments and NGOs. However, it may suffer from a lack of profile within the United Nations human rights system. I am
In the International Labour Organisation we are actively supporting the Director General's efforts to make the ILO more relevant, focusing on job creation and employability rather than the more traditional agenda of labour market regulation. We have welcomed his clear strategic objectives for the organisation and his plans for restructuring the secretariat and improving programme delivery. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked us about those standards. We continue to co-operate closely with the EU in international fora and on bilateral programmes. The EU has taken the lead in measures against forced labour in Burma and in highlighting concerns about slavery in Sudan.
I am also delighted to assure the noble Lords, Lord Brett and Lord Moynihan, that through DfID Britain is providing technical assistance to the ILO to encourage ratification of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and to assist governments to develop national implementation plans. Work has also been undertaken to identify further ways DfID can support the implementation of core labour standards.
We continue to encourage advocacy and action in civil society organisations (NGOs and trade unions) and to encourage socially responsible business practice within the private sector. I give some examples. The DTI/DfID ethical trading initiative, which is worth £530,000, encourages British importers to adopt codes of practice and to take a constructive role in helping their overseas suppliers ensure that, where unacceptable labour practices are found, they will work together to find a solution.
The FCO has set up a global citizenship unit. The work of the unit includes liaising with missions abroad to help them assist UK business in adopting a responsible attitude on the ground, taking account of human rights, labour standards and the environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Brett, raised the issue of Swaziland. In Swaziland we have given support to encourage democratic reform and have pressed the government of Swaziland to meet their human rights commitments. If the noble Lord will permit, I will write to him in relation to the more specific issues that he raised in that regard.
A particular focus of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID is to put an end to abusive child labour practices, including bonded labour and slavery. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, together with many other noble Lords, rightly emphasised the need to be assiduous when looking at this issue. At the International Labour Conference in
We welcome this new convention. We hope that it will prioritise national and international efforts to eradicate the exploitation of children. The International Labour Organisation is now campaigning for ratification and implementation of the convention by all ILO member states. We fully support its efforts.
I am pleased to inform the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we have announced the UK's intention to ratify both the ILO Convention 182 and Convention 138, which set a general minimum age for child labour, and aim to do so before the end of February. I hope that will be a welcome answer also to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.
We have made clear that exploitative child labour is unacceptable. Child labour robs its victims of their right to childhood. A number of noble Lords have echoed that sentiment. It robs them of their right to education and their right to be protected from harm. In too many cases it also robs them of their right to grow up in a family environment. We are pursuing a range of practical initiatives to address all harmful child labour issues.
DfID provided considerable support to the ILO in the preparation and approval of the ILO convention on the worst forms of child labour in 1999 and continues to work with the ILO, national governments and NGOs to implement the convention. In 1998-99, the Department for International Development contributed 1 million US dollars to the ILO's international programme for the elimination of child labour. This programme has a strong focus on child slavery, bonded labour and other similar forms of child labour.
The Department for International Development has also provided funding for IPEC country programmes. I have mentioned already the support that we have given to India in this regard. Over the period 1997 to 1999, there was £160,000 for the IPEC programme in south east Asia, and technical assistance to the ILO programme for children working in the mining industry in Tanzania.
DfID is also providing £750,000 over the period 1997 to 2000 for a Save the Children Fund-run programme to tackle child labour in Pakistan. This is being run in conjunction with other organisations such as the International Labour Organisation and includes measures to tackle child bonded labour. We are providing in addition £4.3 million for a basic education programme in Bangladesh, targeting hard to reach urban children involved in exploitative and hazardous work.
Finally, in relation to children, perhaps I may turn to the issue rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in relation to under-age camel jockeys. The United Arab Emirates authorities assured officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Her Majesty's Embassy at Abu Dhabi in August 1999 that
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned the commitments made at the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing five years ago. I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are working closely with the UN on the convention against transnational crime, which includes the protocol on the trafficking of women and children. The UN convention should be ready for adoption by the end of 2000.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, also asked about our work with NGOs. Our work on child labour demonstrates that we support the work of NGOs such as Anti-Slavery International and Save the Children Fund. The UK has also been a significant donor to UNICEF through our voluntary and core contributions, some £13 million in 1999, and through many individual country-based collaborative projects. DfID is planning to co-operate with UNICEF to take forward a common programme of work in the area of child labour and juvenile justice. We are in regular contact with these and other organisations active in this field and are working to strengthen co-operation, both at the practical level and on policy issues.
Bonded labour and all other forms of slavery are categorically condemned by the international community. In almost all countries such practices are also prohibited under national law, yet the abuse persists and continues to distort millions of lives. We need to tackle the underlying causes of abuse. We have talked today about the many horrific forms of abusive labour in many parts of the world. What all have in common is that the victims are the poor and the weak; people without power or resources, and often without a say. Women and children are particularly vulnerable.
We recognise that we cannot tackle labour abuse in isolation; we must also tackle the poverty, ignorance and social exclusion which breed abuse. As I hope I have set out, this is very much the approach which the Government are pursuing, both in our bilateral activities and in our work with international organisations.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the minutes are few. I wish I could say to everyone individually how much I have appreciated the contributions they have made, which were based on preparation and experience--in many cases exactly the kind of experience that we now need. We heard from the Minister some very encouraging remarks about what the Government are doing. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that we should not let them off the hook. The Minister will know that, at the moment, there is a sustained campaign by Anti-Slavery
Once again, may I thank all noble Lords for what has been said this evening. I am sorry that I have not had time to mention everyone, not even my noble and learned friend. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.