Join the Good jobs in Leicester - Rally and Protest - 1st October 2023 - Sunday - 12pm - Spinney Hill Park LE5 5FD

Join us in this important protest organised by Labour Behind The Label calling for:

Read our article about Britains Fashion Industry here.  You Are Not Welcome Here: Race and Hostility in Britain’s Fast Fashion Industry — Jamhoor 

Support the Manipur Human rights Early day motion

Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East,  a long standing supporter of our campaign tabled this vital EDM highlighting violence in Manipur against Kuki-Zo community and calling for halting the UK-India FTA talks while such violations occur. Write to your MPs to sign and support this motion. 

FTA Negotiations: 21 British MPs call on UK to halt FTA negotiations with India whilst Manipur violence continues - Times of India ( 

Clarification - 15/08/2023

We recently invited a journalist as a speaker for an online event to discuss his report on the Manipur violence because it prompted a UK parliamentary debate on the issue. We acknowledge we did not vet the speaker as he was introduced to us by trusted sources. However, it appears we were all in the dark about certain right-wing views and political positions of the speaker. We wish to clarify that we don’t endorse those views and positions and in hindsight, we should've done our due diligence and vetted him. Our political position is clearly outlined on our website. Please explore our work or email us if you have any questions. The event in question is listed below.

Submission on agri-food trade between UK and India - jULY 2023

Submission on agri-food trade between UK and India 

We, India Labour Solidarity, were invited to submit written evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) on frameworks and standards in agri-food and other areas relevant to India-UK trade negotiations. In this brief, we focus on practices and ground realities of agri-food production in India, and agri-food value chains with implications for labour and small farmers in India, as well as migrant workers in agriculture in the UK.

The evidence in this submission responds to key areas of exploration for the EFRA Inquiry but also addresses wider questions raised by the House of Commons committee report on UK trade negotiations with India, specifically ‘What safeguards will there be to avoid or minimise potential adverse effects of trade liberalisation on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, and rural communities, in India?’ (Fifth Report of Session 2022-2023).


Who we are

India Labour Solidarity (ILS) is a UK-based network of trade unionists, activists, researchers and academics committed to supporting workers’ struggles on better working conditions in India, with a focus on workers from marginalised and oppressed communities. After starting activity at the autumn 2022 TUC Congress and Labour Party conference, India Labour Solidarity (ILS) was formally launched on 6 December 2022 at a public meeting in London – with speakers including Indian trade unionists Nodeep Kaur and Bilal Khan, UK TUC President Maria Exall and Nadia Whittome MP. ILS supports workers’ and other struggles for people’s rights in India; we promote links and solidarity between India’s workers’ and social justice movements and the UK trade union, labour and social justice movements.

Key points 

Current agri-food standards in India do not regulate working conditions and remuneration for labour in the sector. In the case of rice, for example, the government of India conducts inspections, but the certification regime is varied based on the destination country, the requirements are often modified, and most of the scrutiny is limited to physical qualities of grains. Crucially, the certification does not include any evaluation of labour practices, in the vein of principles driving more contemporary certification frameworks such as FairTrade, notwithstanding its limitations in incorporating poorer women farmers as successfully. 

We draw attention to three issues:

These issues pervade key agri-food commodities under consideration for import from India - rice, sugarcane and molasses, spices, fish and tinned vegetables. 

1. Impact on small-scale producers and rural communities in India

The global food market is a volatile system, vulnerable to environmental, political, and economic shocks, such as the 2008 food crisis, COVID-19, and now the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, it is dominated by a handful of corporate agglomerates at the top - the ABCD corporate giants (the acronym stands for the names of the following food corporations ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and (Louis) Dreyfus that account for between 75%- 90% of the global grain trade) - , and the power asymmetries continue on to the national and local levels in most countries of the global North and South. The current structure of the global food market within which bi-lateral trade in agro-food operates does not bode well for small-scale producers in India.

There are multiple definitions of small-scale farmers in India. Here we define them as: family-owned farms of less than or equal to 2 hectares in size. This definition is consistent with the distribution of agricultural landholdings in India, the criteria used by India’s government policy schemes, as well as the definition most commonly used by researchers in India. Incomes from crop production have been terribly low (even negative in some cases) for this category of farmers, which is why many of them are forced to hire themselves out as wage workers as well. Given this situation, and constraints, one may ask what are the realistic possibilities that an export market can offer to this class? Any meaningful intervention will have to deal with these constraints, to begin with.

In post-liberalisation India, the limited income benefits of trade have been unequally distributed, benefiting the rich, higher per-capita income sub-national States, and adversely impacting the poorer regions. Across agricultural value chains, specifically rice and sugarcane, small-scale farmers are systematically excluded from the stated economic gains of incomes from export. There are multiple reasons for this,  but the structural hurdles for small-scale farmers include limited access to state-controlled agricultural markets that offer higher prices, higher input costs and lower selling prices in the hands of private traders and local private mills that squeeze margins. An example is basmati rice: the share of basmati rice in total rice production is 5 per cent, and concentrated amongst large farmers in the two northern states of Haryana and Punjab. The export economy of basmati rice, as such, does not include small-scale farmers and producers.  

Furthermore, in the best-case scenario of inclusion into the export sector for agro-commodities, the financial and processual obstacles to directly participating in certification programmes for export are significant. Ultimately, the incorporation of farmers in accessing remunerative prices in any market rests on their economic bargaining capacity and social power.

An increasingly important factor in evaluating trade in agri-food is the ecological cost of monocropping and intensification of farming certain crops. The ecological cost of farming is insufficiently accounted for, and disproportionately borne by small farmers, as shown by a rigorous study conducted across different agro-ecological zones in India.  Rice and sugarcane farming are water-intensive crops, and intensive production of these crops has been exerting immense ecological pressures on regions that specialise in these crops. While the ecological cost is complex to measure, the effects have been clearly manifesting as compounding and more severe droughts. The droughts in turn impose further costs to farmers by way of higher irrigation costs and lower yields, and access to formal non-usurious credit is low, which result in disproportionately higher levels of debt amongst small-scale farmers. The practice of stubble burning (of rice and wheat crop residue) in northern States of India has received global attention over the last several years. In the absence of low-cost sustainable alternatives and a policy push away from monocropping, this annual practice of ‘crop-burning’ has been causing severe environmental and health damage to both rural and urban communities in the northern regions. A trade deal on rice risks exacerbating the scale of the problem.

2. Impact on agricultural workers in India

The general tendencies in working conditions outlined below apply to agricultural workers who are hired on casual contracts, increasingly recruited and managed by local labour intermediaries and contractors, to work on farms. Typically, it is large farmers that hire in workers, although small farmers tend to hire additional workers, over and above the use of family labour, for time-sensitive agricultural operations.

2.1 Wages in agricultural work

The annual growth rates of wages in major rural occupations in India has seen a decline in recent rates. Real wages for agricultural work in India (sowing/transplanting/weeding and harvesting/winnowing/threshing) saw a decline between 2015 and 2018. Following a minor revival in 2019, real wages in rural areas fell in 2022: men in agricultural work earned a daily wage approximately INR360 (£3.40) and women earned around INR250 (£2.35), amounts that trailed behind food price inflation, threatening food security and nutrition security amongst rural workers. This general context of real wage stagnation makes volatility in food exports highly risky for a vast section of agricultural workers, especially when compounded by the decade-long erosion of social and political infrastructures of public welfare provisions in health, nutrition and education.

2.2 Women’s work and gender pay-gap

According to official estimates from labour surveys, in 2017-2018, 73% of all female workers were involved in agriculture. For all major agricultural tasks, women workers are paid lower wages than men. For one of the main types of agricultural work for women –  sowing/transplanting/weeding – between 2001-02 and 2017-18, wage rate for men across India was between 127% and 133% higher than women performing the same task. Even in periods of overall GDP growth, gender-gap in rural wages for agricultural tasks has persisted (Das 2020). In fact, wage male-female wage disparities have persisted and saw no movement between 2014-15 and 2017-2018.

Case of rice: In the case of rice farming, according to official government data from the National Sample Survey (NSS) 2012–2013, there are 90.2 million agricultural households, of which more than 52 per cent (47.1 million) cultivate paddy. Historically, rice production has engaged women’s labour intensively and across various time-sensitive tasks such as transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and post-harvest operations. Wage rates for these ‘female’ tasks are lower than the male tasks of harvesting, and for the same tasks women get lower wages. In the case of sowing, for example, the per-day wage for females can be anywhere between 40 per cent to 90 per cent of the per-day male wages. While the extent of wage penalty varies across regions and States, there is substantial evidence to show that women perform backbreaking labour and are systematically discriminated against in agricultural work. Any trade deal based on the principle of fairness would provide checks and balances for gender- and caste-based wage disparities. 

2.3 Occupational health, and gender-specific control and harassment

Amongst women working as sugarcane cutters in Beed district in Maharashtra, one study shows, prevalence of non-communicable diseases is high - 37 per cent, of which 80 per cent are associated with musculoskeletal disorders. Evidence overall suggests that these diseases are associated not only with devastatingly long hours of work, as high as 18-20 hours, but poor sanitation, water, malnutrition, and inadequate access to healthcare. An investigative report in 2019-2020 detailed how menstrual distress while working on farms drove, and continues to force till date, drives women sugarcane cutters to undergo hysterectomies. Government statistics from the National Family and Health Survey confirm these studies:  incidence of hysterectomies in sugarcane district of Beed (6.8%) was twice that of rural India (3.6 per cent). The Indian government, and its various administrative authorities, have taken no measures to address this workplace brutality that women continue to face. 

2.4 Child labour

In general, in small-producer farming households, children below the age of 15 years are involved in work on family farms. Studies have revealed that the prevalence of child labour amongst small farmers is higher in relatively prosperous farming regions in India, such as in the southern State of Andhra Pradesh, which produces non-basmati varieties of rice (Dhar et al 2017). Children are typically involved in time-sensitive farm tasks such harvesting, threshing, cutting sugarcane, or transplanting and weeding in the case of paddy. 

3. Treatment of migrant workers on farms in the UK 

At the UK end, there is severe exploitation of seasonal migrant labour in the agricultural sector, a trend that has exacerbated since the introduction of the seasonal workers’ scheme in 2019. This is relevant to this Inquiry for two reasons: first, fruits, including in the form of breakfast cereals, are one of the commodities under consideration for export from the UK to India; second, in considering labour standards, the UK must account for and address its own practices. 

Testimonies in the UK parliament have shown that migrant workers from a number of countries in South Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe are subjected to extremely poor work conditions and in some cases unlawful working hours, harassment and bullying, and financial pressures. Workers from Nepal, for example, incur visa and flight costs of £1,500 and make payments as high as £4,000 to brokers only to make it to the site of employment. These costs are borne by the workers, which pushes them into indebtedness, which in turn drives them to comply with hyper-exploitation on farms - squalid living conditions, piece-rate wages, fear of wage penalties for not meeting targets; punitive actions for toilet breaks. 

The UK government’s failure to regulate farm owners, private recruitment agencies and other intermediaries involved in bringing and actively keeping workers under dangerous living and working conditions, debt bondage, restrictions on movement, and crippling precarity should be of concern to India. The total number of seasonal workers visas issued to workers from India until April 2023 is 264 (Home Office Visa Database, 25 May 2023), and this has been steadily rising since 2021.  

4. General concerns regarding the FTA with India

Since India’s turn to liberalisation of key sectors in the early 1990s, the country has experienced high growth rates, typically 5-9 per cent per year. But the benefits of this growth have been very unevenly distributed, with sharply rising inequality. Between 1980 and today, according to the World Inequality Report 2022, the income share going to the top 10 per cent of the population in India rose from little more than 30 per cent to close to 60 per cent; the share of the bottom 50 per cent declined from over 20 per cent to under 15  per cent. Oxfam India states that 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the top 1 per cent, while the bottom 50 per cent saw just a 1 per cent increase in their wealth.

Trade Justice Movement (TJM), with which ILS is partnering in a campaign cautioning against the current FTA negotiations, has also produced a detailed report on the potential FTA (October 2022), meticulously exploring the issues in the UK and India and the likely impact of a deal on: human rights; sustainable development goals; labour rights; climate change and environmental protections; gender equality; health; and agriculture. ILS concurs with TJM’s conclusion for the negotiations to be suspended until the situation in both countries is radically improved. For further details, please view ILS’ statement on radically reconsidering trade relations with India under the current political regime, please see here:


There is little evidence to show that trade of agri-commodities necessarily and sustainably benefits small farmers, agricultural workers and women workers in India. The priority of procuring ‘cheap’ food materialises through poor and dangerous working conditions, low wages, long hours, precarious contracts that disproportionately draw the labour of women and migrant workers both in India and in the UK. If ‘cheap’ production of commodities is based on mistreatment of workers in the form of exploitation and impoverishment with widespread nutritional insecurity amongst those at the frontline of food production, then trade cannot bring ‘prosperity to nations’, the purported intent of the recent spate of trade talks. 

The main recommendation to safeguard and minimise potential adverse effects of trade liberalisation on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, and rural communities, in India based on evidence provided in this submission are two fold: 

For further questions, the ILS can be contacted at