Human rights can be defined as the unchallengeable rights of those who may not otherwise be equal but are personally autonomous and have relations.
Human rights can be traced back to ancient history. Early documents of the idea include the Code of Hammurabi, French Revolution, Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, American Declaration of Independence, Social Contract, and the philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Not only in Pakistan, but all over the world, human rights are ensured by the constitution and safeguarded by the judiciary and criminal justice system. Human rights in Islam are derived from God’s will. God has created humans equally and does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed and colour.
However, the human rights of the labour class are a highly challenging concept, especially in the context of Pakistan. Pakistan is the kind of country where millions of people are engaged in hard labour. There are substantial pockets of labourers in all of Pakistan’s provinces, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan.
Theorists like Karl Marx and Max Weber precisely focused on the perspective of the labourers, their economy, the injustices meted out to them under the capitalist system and the low wages the labourers earn. Capitalists have created an unequal structure for the poorest classes, enabling the powerful class to control their fate. Similarly, Pakistan also has a long history of different capitalists controlling the fate of its poor.
The social and economic structures thus created will never secure and protect the labouring population in any part of the globe. Slavery and exploitation of labourers continues all over the world in various forms. And a country like Pakistan is no exception either.
It is arduous for researchers to investigate the issue of bonded labour in Pakistan due to the numerous limitations rooted in our culture, society and political environment. It is extremely difficult to address the problems of slavery, servitude and violation of human rights in Pakistan.
The Asian Development Bank has also indicated that the percentage of destitution and slavery in Sindh and Balochistan is significantly high, whereas a number of bonded labourers are also kept in captivation. Labour violations in Sindh are particularly deep-rooted in landholdings and the nature of distribution of lands. There are a large number of landless farmers in Sindh.
While the laws in Punjab allow the owner proprietorship on seven sections of land, a landowner in Sindh has been allowed to possess 28 sections of land. As per the International Labour Organization (ILO), around 1.8 million people are involved in bonded labour in Pakistan and a majority of them are landless peasants found in Sindh.
Today, Sindh has the highest rate of landlessness in Pakistan. More than 40 percent of Sindh has been tenanted out by enormous proprietors. There are about 1.2 million peasants who are compelled to work along with their women and children. Both the Sindh Tenancy Act and the Bonded Labour Abolition Act have failed to protect these bonded workers in Pakistan.
It has been 10 years since the Supreme Court of Pakistan proclaimed bonded labour to be illegal and abrogated all concerning practices. It has been some years since the National Assembly passed a law formally declaring bonded labour a forbidden practice.
Bonded labour as a practice has been denounced by the UN, and is subsequently considered an infringement of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ILO also considers forced work to be an infringement of its convention No 29 on Forced Labour.
Pakistan is a country that has always been a haven for law violators, which includes both people and organisations. They have actually damaged the country’s environment and violated rights of the people. The existence of such violators is a question mark on both the people and institutions of this country.
According to Henry Ford “a business which makes nothing but money is poor kind of business”. Organisations working in Pakistan as well as all over the world should respect, protect and promote the rights of their workers in all ways otherwise they will be directly contributing to the instability of the organisations. Apart from organising seminars and conferences on the importance of human rights, these organisations should also fund research to find the causes of human rights violations.
The writer is a freelance contributor.