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Friday October 22, 2021

Hari Welfare Association demands end to exploitation of workers engaged in cotton production

September 20, 2021
Hari Welfare Association demands end to exploitation of workers engaged in cotton production

The Hari Welfare Association (HWA) has expressed grievance over the government’s negligence and ignorance of economic and physical abuse of workers engaged in cotton production and cultivation in Sindh.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the association said that exploitation of workers was detrimental to sustainable agriculture practices in the cotton supply chain. The HWA stated that of Pakistan's total cotton production area, 35 per cent was in Sindh where millions of peasants and workers were regularly engaged to grow and pick cotton. It added that except Kamber-Shahdadkot, Jacobabad and Kashmore, cotton was cultivated in all the areas of Sindh, including the Karachi division.

The major cotton growing districts in the province include Khairpur, Ghotki, Sukkur, Shaheed Benazirabad, Naushero Feroz, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Matiari, Badin and Tando Allah Yar.

HWA President Akram Khaskheli bemoaned the fact that labour and child rights laws such as the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, Sindh Child Protection Authority Act, Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, and Sindh Industrial Relations Act were not implemented and it violated the rights of workers in the cotton production process in the province.

He said that due to the non-implementation of laws, most of the workers in cotton farms worked in unsafe and vulnerable work conditions. He went on to claim that cotton producers and pickers’ families face physical abuse and sexual violence along with abusive working conditions, including low wages and excessive working times.

The HWA president recalled that in 2021, Sindh fixed the minimum wage at Rs25,000 but in cotton picking, women and children were not paid the minimum wage and they were remunerated for how much cotton they collected. He said cotton pickers were paid as little as 500 rupees per day for 40 kilogrammes of cotton and it was widespread low-wage labour.

The absence of mechanisms to ensure the minimum wage in the cotton sector was also a cause of child labor as low incomes push families to force children to work, Khaskheli said, adding that religious minorities and migrant workers were prone to labour exploitation in Sindh where minority communities like Kolhis and Bheels routinely migrated from one district to another during cotton production.

The statement read that cotton harvesting was mainly done by women. It added that cotton picking was the only job for which cash was paid in Sindh on the same day in general as no other work in the agriculture sector paid cash remuneration to women.

The HWA president lamented that due to poor socio-economic status and lack of education, women did not have the bargaining power to negotiate per kilogramme rate for cotton picking. He also expressed grievance over the fact that cotton-growing communities suffered numerous obstacles, challenges and health risks in Sindh and Punjab.

Children involved in cotton cultivation had to do manual harvesting, pesticide application, weeding, irrigation and hybridisation tasks, most of which fell in the category of hazardous work, Khaskheli said, adding that malnourished and often dehydrated children were forced to work without any protective gear in cotton cultivation.

According to the HWA, socio-demographic and political-economic factors were key risk factors for the abuse and exploitation of men, women and children in the cotton production and cultivation. Poverty, poor adult incomes, limited access to education, big household size, lack of skills and low income-generating and livelihood options described homes that forced children into the labour market.

The HWA said that all the labour and child rights laws should be implemented and the cotton sector should be unionised and registered under the Sindh Agriculture Workers Act 2019 and Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013. The government should also constitute and activate district vigilance committees to prevent debt bondage in all areas of the agriculture sector.