We need to bring women workers and local communities into the picture. Growth must not displace and replace, but build and join.

Make in India should not break India and here is what Modi govt should do
Voices Opinion Tuesday, November 03, 2015 - 14:54

By Harpreet Kaur

The World Economic Forum’s National Strategy Day on India this week in Delhi will explore the country’s “next decade of growth”.  The Make in India initiative will potentially provide a much-needed impetus to the economy.  However, if this growth also deepens inequality, displaces and replaces as opposed to joins and builds, if it doesn’t serve all – it could break India and shatter dreams of millions.

Manufacturing in India requires raw material, and people to convert the raw material into ready-to-use products.  The country has both in abundance.  It has many mineral-rich states, and boasts of a demographic dividend.  Currently, however, the approach to both of these resources needs to be significantly changed.

The government and businesses must start by heeding the women of Munnar, Kerala.  Last month, women planation workers organized after years of exploitation by tea companies and a male-dominated trade union structure to demand a re-introduction of their monthly bonus, and a fair wage.  They received immediate support and encouragement from many walks of society.  Ignoring women may be the single biggest mistake that corporate India can make.

This includes incorporating women into the workplace, as well as respecting their rights once there.  India’s workforce is projected to reach 575 million by 2022, but the country has one of the worst gender gaps in the world with respect to labour force participation. Data show that women’s participation in the workforce is just over a quarter of women of working age, and declining. There have been initiatives to promote diversity & inclusion in the Indian workplace, but, still a long way to go. The report, India Inc: From Intention to Impact that looks at 42 firms employing over 400,000 people reported a gap between corporate initiatives to improve gender diversity programmes and their implementation in the workplace.

Prioritizing women on the National Strategy Day makes economic sense.If the workforce participation rate was equal for women and men, approximately 217 million women would join the labour force. International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde has highlighted that that this could boost India’s economic output by as much as 27%.

Similarly in exploitation of the country’s natural mineral wealth, rights need to be front and center to ensure sustainability. As Pushpa Achanta says in her blog, Inside the indigenous movement to protect India’s commons”, indigenous communities are strengthening their organizing to protect their rivers, lands, forests and hills from “development” that would displace thousands of local residents and destroy the environment.

In our approaches to companies inviting them to respond publicly to allegations of human rights abuses, the response rate from Indian-headquartered companies is only 41%, compared to a global average of 75%.  The majority of companies approached were in the extractives and agriculture sectors.  This demonstrates a concerning lack of transparency and accountability for human rights impacts among these companies, and lack of willingness to engage publicly with civil society concerns about their conduct.  At the same time, we are seeing increasing clamp-downs on human rights defenders working on behalf of people impacted by development projects.

Both the Indian government and its companies can take as a starting point the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to ensure a rights-respecting approach to development.

More voices are lost than those that are heard at many events focused on India’s economic growth, particularly those of the marginalized, vulnerable sections of society. Focusing the National Strategy on India’s people – all the people – could help India not only create its own growth story but become a beacon of sustainable development globally.

The writer is the South Asia Researcher & Representative at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. She has a PhD and her dissertation focus on Terrorism & Human Rights in Kashmir. She writes on development & human rights issues. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an independent non-profit organization that promotes greater awareness and informed discussion about human rights issues relating to business. 

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