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Helping to protect millions of people in extreme poverty from bonded labour


The partnership between Thankyou. and International Justice Mission has had a direct contribution to the protection of millions of people from bonded labour who are in extreme poverty.


South Asia is considered high-risk for modern slavery due to the scale and prevalence of a form of forced labour known as bonded labour slavery.

Bonded labour slavery is a form of slavery where adults and children are forced to work to repay debts. Often the ‘debts’ are a form of deception and violent force is used to ensure coercive control of an indebted workforce. Research has shown that South Asia has the largest number of people in bonded labour - an estimated 15.5 million.

In 2014, IJM conducted a study on the prevalence of bonded labour in 11 different industries across all 31 districts of Tamil Nadu state, where IJM Chennai is located. Nearly 30% of manual labourers working in 11 different industries in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, are bonded (an estimated 463,000 people).

In some industries, such as brick kilns, rock quarries or textile factories, almost two-thirds of labourers are bonded. Migrant labourers were bonded at more than three times the rate of those working in their home districts.

Despite India making great strides to address this urgent problem, the crime of bonded labour is still widely prevalent. The COVID 19 pandemic also greatly impacted the region. The World Bank estimated in September 2020 that most of the world’s additional 88 million people pushed into extreme poverty, through the pandemic, lived in South Asia. Many of these people were as a result at greater risk of being forced into debt bondage and trafficked into bonded labour.


Strengthening justice systems

Thankyou’s partnership with International Justice Mission has made a significant contribution to protecting those in poverty from the violence of bonded labour slavery by supporting our work in Tamil Nadu.

The impact goal of the Bonded Labour Program in the State of Tamil Nadu (the project area) is that the people vulnerable to the crime of bonded labour are confident in and protected by a functioning justice system, which deters perpetrators and results in the reduction of the prevalence of the crime.

The program has four primary outcomes:
1. The Tamil Nadu State takes the lead in ending bonded labour.
2. Public justice system implementers (e.g. the police and public prosecutors) address the crime of bonded labour to create deterrence.
3. The Tamil Nadu State builds, monitors, and holds accountable the implementation process.
4. Survivors experience care and protection from the system

Key Findings and Results

Public justice system implementers address the crime of bonded labour to create deterrence

On 30 March 2021, an Indian judge convicted a local business owner for holding nine people in brutal bonded labour in a tree-cutting business. This legal trial was innovative in several ways including being subject to a High Court order to be completed in just eight weeks, Release Certificates admitted as formal evidence and lead police offers being able to provide evidence over video conferencing.
These innovations demonstrate the government’s commitment to addressing bonded labour, set importance evidentiary precedence, and demonstrated technology as a trustworthy tool in the justice system.

New Statewide Helpline for Bonded Labour Complaints

In the September Quarter, the Tamil Nadu government established a toll-free helpline to receive complaints related to bonded labour. By calling the toll-free number, citizens are connected to a polite and professional operator who can receive any grievances pertaining to bonded labour. This is a highly significant win as six years ago, some officials denied the existence of bonded labour. Today, the state prioritises the eradication of the bonded labour system and is taking proactive measures to achieve this goal independently.

The Tamil Nadu State takes the lead in ending bonded labour

Tamil Nadu Government Observes India’s First-Ever Bonded Labour System Abolition Day.

On 23 September 2020, the Tamil Nadu government directed that 9 February be observed as Bonded Labour System Abolition Day. This was a significant milestone for the program as this indicates the Government's will and ownership towards combating bonded labour.

Government officials from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs visited the bonded labour survivor model rehabilitation project at Meesanallur village in Tiruvannamalai district. This village is entirely made up of survivors of bonded labour, with concrete houses built by the government and numerous survivor-led businesses (like charcoal units, dairy production, and a petrol pump).

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