Millions of Indian Farmers Protest Anti-Labor Legislation: Indication of the Need for a Stronger International Labor Organization.

Written by: Matthew McCartin, Associate Editor

For nearly forty days, Indian farmers and workers have taken to the streets of India to protest new agricultural legislation passed by the Indian government that would deregulate Indian agriculture and encourage farmers to sell their crops directly to corporations.[1] the height of the protests, an estimated 250,000,000 Indian workers and farmers took part in the protest, which makes up roughly four percent of the entire world’s population.

The law promulgated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s far-right Bharatiya Janata Party, not only negatively effects Indian farmers, but also would affect global commerce, as India is a major exporter of agricultural goods, including spices, which India exports roughly 68% of the entire world’s supply.[2] 

While the International Labor Organization (“ILO”) has promulgated protections for workers, namely through the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998 (the “Declaration”), those protections are not enough in the current economic climate, as States and multi-national corporations continually violate the standards set forth by the ILO, and face little to no repercussion for their actions. The rights of workers set forth in the Declaration cannot be fully realized, if State governments do not follow the rules set forth by the ILO and continue to work in the interest of private capital instead of in the interest of workers, all while the ILO is unable to sanction such behavior. The specter of sanctions could act as an incentive for States to pass legislation that is fair to both labor and capital.

The protests in India, and the treatment of workers across the globe in recent decades, and in particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic, make it clear that the ILO needs to be given the authority to sanction States that violate the Declaration. The ILO is currently allowed to investigate alleged violations and publicize its findings; however, the ILO is not given the authority to place retaliatory trade measures or sanctions against an offending State.[3] If the ILO had such authority, the Indian government would have a tougher time imposing such a law on farmers and workers, as the legislation violates the Declaration, and would subject India to ILO sanctions. When individual State governments refuse to act in the best interest of workers, the majority of the country, and instead act in the best interest of corporations, the minority, the ILO must be able to intervene and sanction such nations.


[1] NPR – Crowds Of Indian Farmers Gather For Days To Protest New Agriculture Laws – Dec. 4, 2020, available at https://www.npr.org/2020/12/04/943082236/indias-farmers-man-barricades-in-delhi-protesting-new-agriculture-laws

[2] CNN – Thousands of people are protesting with farmers in India. This is why you should care. – Dec. 11, 2020, available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/11/world/farmer-protests-india-protests-hnk-trnd/index.html

[3] Brookings Institute – Workers’ Rights: Labor standards and global trade – Sept. 1, 2001, available at https://www.brookings.edu/articles/workers-rights-labor-standards-and-global-trade/#:~:text=If%20complaints%20are%20lodged%2C%20the,violation%20and%20publicizes%20its%20findings.&text=The%20ILO%20cannot%2C%20however%2C%20authorize,and%20enforcement%20procedures%20into%20compliance.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,