This week the leaders of India and Australia reaffirmed their mutual interest in closer diplomatic and economic ties.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during their long-delayed Thursday “virtual summit”:
India is committed to expanding its relations with Australia on a wider and faster pace. This is important not only for our two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world.
But I will not say that I am satisfied with this pace. When a leader like you is leading our friend country, then the criteria for the pace of development in our relations should also be ambitious.
Australia should be ambitious for its friendship with India. We have a long-term interest in India developing as another prosperous, harmonious democracy.
Standing in the way of that is India’s chaotic web of labour laws. There are hundreds at both national and state levels. They’ve long been a disincentive to trade and investment because of the compliance challenges for law-abiding foreign businesses.
Yet those same laws are so loosely enforced domestically that dodgy and unlawful working conditions are rife.
Indeed of India’s workforce of 500 million, it is estimated about 450 million are in the “informal sector”, with no minimum pay rates, let alone other benefits.
So there are good reasons for Australia to support India reducing its sheer number of labour laws. But there are also good reasons to encourage it to enforce the commitments required of both nations under international labour conventions.
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.
Modi’s March 24 orders for “a complete lockdown” were issued at 8:58pm, and took effect at midnight.
Shops, markets, factories and construction sites were shut down. All public transport services were stopped. India’s population of more than 1.3 billion people was told to stay home.
139 million migrant wokers
But hundred of thousands had to get home first.
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.
A survey of about 3,200 of these walkers in early April found nearly a third were in debt, usually to money lenders from their communities.
Bhagwan Das, who walked for three days to get back to his village after losing his job as a construction worker in Delhi, told his story to the Thomson Reuters Foundation
Unable to maintain repayments on the 60,000 rupee (US$787) loan he took out in 2017 for his daughter’s wedding, Das had no choice but to offer his son’s labour to service the rising debt.
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.
Globally there is an estimated 40 million modern slaves. About 25 million are in forced labour. This may be through use or threats of violence, physical or emotional restraints, or bonded labour – also known as debt bondage, forcing people to work to pay off a debt.
Debt bondage is the most prevalent form of forced labour. In India, a 2016 investigation in the southern state of Tamil Nadu (India’s largest producer of cotton yarn) found 351 of 743 spinning mills used so-called “Sumangali” schemes to lure young women with the promise of lump sums for use as a dowry.
In practice this lump sum is made up of withheld wages, and used as a means to bind workers to the mill. Girls only receive the lump sum if they fulfil their three to five years contract period, under exploitative and unhealthy conditions. Girls who fail to do so, and many do because of health problems, abuse and exhaustion, most often do not receive the withheld wages.
This despite bonded labour being outlawed since 1976, and dowries since 1961.
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.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, for example, summarily suspended most laws including its minimum wage act. It reportedly plans to maintain most suspensions for three years.
As Radhicka Kapoor, of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, has put it, these policies are “creating an enabling environment for exploitation”.
The International Labour Organisation, which sets international labour standards, has written to Modi asking him to ensure India upholds its international commitments.
Both India and Australia are signatories to the International Labour Organsiation’s Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which states “these rights are universal” and apply “to all people in all states – regardless of the level of economic development”.
Ensuring they apply to all of Australia’s supply chains is crucial for the Morrison government to continue to be “a world leader in eradicating modern slavery” – as Home Affairs Minister Jason Woods declared just three days before the Modi-Morrison meeting.
Increasing integrated global supply chains have made it hard to tell whether even products that are stamped “Made in Australia” have at some stage used slaves or underage children as part of the production process.
Forcibly detained adults and children work in industries including fishing, cocoa, cotton, clothing, cannabis, construction and prostitution.
The term “modern slavery” refers only to the worst forms of exploitation, and not to other serious breaches of human rights such as the denial of freedom of association or the denial of worker safety, such as at Rana Plaza clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in which more than 1,000 garment workers died when their building collapsed in 2013.
The International Labour Organisation believes that 21 million people worldwide are forced labourers, half of them in the Asia-Pacific region.
What will be required
As with the British Act, Australia’s will require businesses and other organisations above a certain size (consolidated revenue of A$100 million) to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and the action they have taken to assess and address those risks, and the effectiveness of their response.
Smaller businesses will be able to report voluntarily.
To ensure high-level engagement, the statement has to be approved by the board of directors or equivalent and signed by a director.
The statements will be publicly available on a central register maintained by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth government itself, and those of its entities that satisfy the reporting revenue threshold, will also have to prepare a statement.
What will not be required
Two controversial omissions are penalties and independent oversight.
The government was unwilling to impose a penalty for failing to lodge a statement or for lodging an incomplete statement.
This needn’t be fatal. The requirement and the public register means that companies that don’t report properly can be “named and shamed” by non-government organisations. Consumer pressure can itself become a sanction.
The UK experience does not encourage optimism as about compliance.
In response to these concerns, Senate amendments have empowered the minister to name and shame his or herself, publicly calling out continued instances of non-compliance and reporting to parliament annually on compliance trends.
Australia’s parliamentary inquiry and a good many of the submissions strongly supported the appointment of an independent statutory anti-slavery commissioner with the authority and resources to oversee compliance.
The government will instead establish a departmental unit to help business address slavery risks and prepare statements.
The Labor party supports both penalties and the appointment of an independent commissioner.
It is possible that both requirements will be in place before the first modern slavery statements are due on June 30, 2020.
NSW has also passed its own Modern Slavery Act, due to take effect after the Commonwealth Act commences. It imposes a lower revenue reporting threshold of $50 million, and provides for penalties for businesses that do not comply, of up to A$1.1 million.
It also creates the post of Independent NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
American baseballer Yogi Berra said that when we come to a fork in the road, we should take it. Wise advice. We have two ways forward and should take both. In truth, they converge.
First, we need to monitor compliance levels, and determine whether penalties and independent oversight are needed. And we need to set up processes that ensure the reports are of good quality.
First, there is no doubt that activities associated with modern slavery, such as human trafficking, servitude and forced labour, are grave human rights issues, requiring a dedicated and co-ordinated response.
Governments cannot solve the problem on their own. It is a particular issue in countries like India, but also occurs in Australia.
Although the UK’s Modern Slavery Act has seven parts, including protection for victims, civil and criminal provisions, new maritime enforcement mechanisms, and the establishment of an anti-slavery commissioner, the focus has overwhelmingly been on its impact on businesses.
The act and associated regulations require businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to disclose what they are doing to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their supply chains and their own businesses. It appears there is support from people in the business community, and faith-based and other non-governmental organisations, for a similar business reporting initiative in Australia.
A key promoter of the introduction of a Modern Slavery Act here is businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest. He and his wife Nicola established Walk Free, a Perth-based international non-governmental organisation with a mission to “end modern slavery in our generation”.
Walk Free was one of the 173 organisations and individuals to make a submission to the parliamentary inquiry.
Although submissions varied in terms of how modern slavery and trafficking might best be tackled, there was broad, in-principle support for the introduction of an act. This includes submissions by businesses such as Qantas and Wesfarmers, both of which already report on their anti-slavery efforts under the UK legislation.
There is apparent bipartisan support for the initiative. The Coalition government has been exploring options for business reporting over the last several years through the Supply Chains Working Group set up as part of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery.
Labor has expressed strong support for the introduction of new business reporting obligations, proposing to go further than the UK by imposing penalties on businesses in Australia that fail to report on their anti-slavery efforts.
In the UK, as well as at an international level, compliance with such reporting obligations is primarily driven by considerations of public opinion.
What international obligations exist?
Several voluntary international obligations relevant to modern slavery exist. Globally, more than 9,400 organisations from over 160 countries have committed as participants to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). This is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, actively engaging in responsible human rights and labour practices.
The Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) brings together UNGC participants, other leading companies, non-profit organisations and universities – including the University of Western Australia – to advance these same goals in Australia.
OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises also apply to Australian businesses. For example, the associated dispute resolution mechanism has been used to bring a complaint against security firm GS4 Australia for conditions and alleged abuse of detainees on Manus Island.
Will an Australian Modern Slavery Act prove effective?
Last week’s visit to Australia by Kevin Hyland, the UK anti-slavery commissioner, was timely.
Although the UK legislation has received a cautious welcome so far, it is too early to judge whether it will have any meaningful impact on reducing worker exploitation.
In Australia, longstanding criminal laws against trafficking and slavery have not prevented their occurrence and, for the most part, have not been relied on by authorities to prosecute exploitation. The effectiveness of pursuing employers for the exploitation of migrant workers via the Fair Work Ombudsman is also limited.
By extending the responsibility to tackle exploitation to include business and not just government, it is hoped that the introduction of an Australian Modern Slavery Act will help tackle worker exploitation. However, there remains a risk that this initiative will continue the trend of side-stepping the root causes of worker exploitation in this country.
Vulnerability to workplace exploitation is closely connected to the regulation of migration and labour.
Therefore, as well as receiving the support of Australia’s business community, any proposed solution to this problem must engage with government policies and practices affecting migration and migrant labour to reduce worker vulnerability.
How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of Islamic State? Our series on the jihadist group’s origins tries to address this question by looking at the interplay of historical and social forces that led to its advent.
In the penultimate article of the series, Harith Bin Ramli traces the Muslim world’s growing disaffection with its rulers through the 20th century and how it created the climate for both the genesis of Islamic State and its continuing success in recruiting followers.
Islamic State (IS) declared its re-establishment of the caliphate on June 29, 2014, almost exactly 100 years after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. Ferdinand’s death set off a series of events that would lead to the first world war and the fall of three great multinational world empires: Austro-Hungary (1867-1918), Russian (1721-1917) and the Ottoman Sultanate (1299-1922).
That IS’s leadership chose to declare its caliphate so close to the anniversary of Ferdinand’s assassination may not entirely be a coincidence. In a sense, the two events are connected.
In declaring the resurrection of a medieval political institution almost exactly 100 years later, IS was announcing its explicit rejection of the modern international system based on that very idea of sovereignty.
Other than the Ottoman dynasty’s very late and disputed claim to the title, no attempt has been made to re-establish a caliphate since the fall of the Abbasid dynasty at the hands of the Mongols in 1258. In other words, Sunni Islam has carried on for hundreds of years since the 13th century without the need for a central political figurehead.
The Abbasid caliphs began to lose power from the mid-ninth century, effectively becoming puppets of various warlords by the tenth. And the caliphate underwent a serious process of decentralisation at the same time.
Key contemporary texts on statecraft, such as Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi’s (952-1058) Ordinances of Government (al-Ahkam al-sultaniyya), described the caliph as the necessary symbolic figurehead providing constitutional legitimacy for the real rulers – emirs or sultans – whose power was based on military might.
As in the case of the Shi’i Buyid dynasty (934-1048), these rulers didn’t even have to be Sunni. And they were often expected to provide legislation based on practical and functional, rather than religious, considerations.
The Muslim world, then, had arguably already experienced secularisation of sorts before the modern age. Or, at the very least, it had for quite some time existed within a political system that balanced power between religious and worldly interests.
And when the caliphate came to an end in the 13th century, both the institutions of kingship and the religious courts (run by the scholar-jurists) were able to carry on functioning without difficulty.
It was the 19th-century Muslim revivalist and anti-colonial movement known as Pan-Islamism that was responsible for reviving the Ottoman claim to the caliphate. And the idea was revived again briefly in early 20th-century British India as the anti-colonial Khilafat movement.
But anti-colonial efforts after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, even those primarily based on religious beliefs, have rarely called for a return of the caliphate.
If anything, successors of Pan-Islamism, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have generally worked within the framework of nation states. Putting aside doubts about their actual ability to commit to democracy and secularism, such movements have generally envisioned an Islamic state along more modern lines, with room for political participation and elections.
Modern utopias and old dynasties
So why evoke the caliphate in the first place? The simple answer is that it has never been completely dismissed as an option.
In Sunni law and political theology, once consensus over an issue has been reached, it is hard for later generations to go against it. This was why Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Raziq was removed from his post at Al-Azhar University and attacked for introducing a deviant interpretation after he wrote an argument for a secular interpretation of the caliphate in 1925.
As manyrecentstudies show, the idea of the caliphate and its revival has had a certain utopian appeal for a wide spectrum of modern Muslim thinkers. And not just those with authoritarian or militant inclinations.
But, in practice, the dominant tendency here too has really been to seek the liberation or revival of Muslim societies within the nation-state framework.
If anything, national aspirations and the desire to modernise society existed before the formation of the new political order after the first world war. The majority of the populations of Muslim lands welcomed the fall of the three empires, or at least didn’t feel very strongly about the survival of traditional ruling dynasties.
And, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, most dynasties that stayed in power did so by reinventing their states along modern, mainly secular, models.
But this did not always succeed. The waves of revolutions and military coups that swept the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world throughout the 1950s and 1960s amply illustrate that popular sentiment identified traditional dynasties with the continuing influence of colonial powers.
In Egypt, under the Muhammad Ali dynasty (1805-1952), for example, the control of the then-French Canal epitomised the interdependent relationship between the dynasty and Western power. This was why Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) made great efforts to regain it in the name of Egyptian sovereignty when he became the country’s second president in 1956.
Dissolving political legitimacy
Either way, the success of the new Muslim nation states could be said to be predicated on two major expectations. The first was improvement of citizens’ lives – not only in terms of material progress, but also the benefits of freedom and the ability to represent the popular will through participatory politics.
The second was the ability of Muslim nations to unite against outside interference and commit to the liberation of Palestine. On both counts, the latter half of the 20th century witnessed abysmal failures and an increasing sense of frustration with Muslim leaders.
In many places, populism eventually gave way to authoritarianism. And the loss of further lands to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War revealed the inherent weakness and lack of unity among the new Muslim nations.
Anwar Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur War was widely seen as an act of betrayal, for breaking ranks in what should have been a united front. His decision to do so despite lacking popular support in Egypt only revealed the extent to which the country had evolved into a dictatorship.
Sadat’s consequent assassination at the hands of a small radical splinter group of religious militants acted as a warning to other Muslim leaders. Now they couldn’t simply ignore or lock away religious critics, even if the majority of the population still subscribed to the secular nation-state model.
Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Muslim leaders around the world increasingly made compromises with religious reactionary forces, allowing them to expand influence in the public sphere. In many cases, these leaders increasingly adopted religious rhetoric themselves.
Showing support for fellow Muslims in the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1987) or the First Palestinian Intifada provided an opportunity to manage the threat of religious radicalism. National leaders probably also saw this as an effective way to deflect attention from the authoritarian nature of many Muslim states.
The Gulf War also brought non-Muslim troops to Arabian soil, inspiring Osama bin Laden’s call for jihad against the Western nations that participated in it. And it eventually led to the US invasion of Iraq. That set off a chain of events that created in the country the chaotic conditions that enabled the rise of Islamic State.
If IS’s leadership is really an alliance between ex-Ba’athist generals and an offshoot of al-Qaeda, as has often been depicted, then we don’t have to go far beyond the events of this war to explain how the group formed. But the rise of Islamic State and its declaration of the caliphate can also be read as part of a wider story that has unfolded since the formation of modern nation states in the Muslim world.
As some commentators have pointed out, it’s not so much the Sykes-Picot agreement and the drawing of artificial national borders by colonial powers that brought about IS.
The modern nation-state model – as much as it’s based on a kind of fiction – is still strong in most parts of the Muslim world. And, I believe, it’s still the preferred option for most Muslims today.
But the long century that has passed since the first world war has been increasingly marked by frustration. It’s littered with the broken promises of Muslim rulers to bring about a transition to more representative forms of government. And it has been marked by a sense that Western powers continue to control and manipulate events in the region, in a way that doesn’t always represent the best interests of Muslim societies.
An extreme high point of frustration was reached in the events of the so-called Arab Spring. The wave of popular demonstrations against the autocratic regimes of the Arab world were seen as the first winds of change that would bring about democracy to the region.
But, with the possible exception of Tunisia, all of these countries underwent either destabilisation (Libya, Syria), the return of military rule (Egypt) or the further clamping down on civil rights (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf monarchies).
I would hesitate to describe IS’s declaration of a caliphate as a serious challenge to the modern nation-state model. But the small, albeit substantial, stream of followers it manages to recruit daily shows it would be wrong to take for granted that the terms of the international order can simply be dictated from above forever.
When brute force increasingly has the final say over how people live their lives, it becomes harder for them to differentiate between the lesser of two evils.
The link below is to an article that reports on the Church of England’s Christmas advertisement campaign and to say it’s nonsense is stating the obvious. There is nothing clever or particularly engaging about it, it is just more typical modern church nonsense.
The article below is about a pastor who has been using fitness machines while ‘preaching’ to his congregation. His ‘sermons’ were based on chapters out of his recent book. Yeah, more modern foolishness in church.