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Labour Reforms in Uttar Pradesh: A step towards Modern Slavery

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Authors: Ayush Gattani and Vaibhav Kansara*

The shutdown in China due to Covid-19 has caused major supply shock which has prompted global firms to look for new manufacturing centres for hedging risk of the future. It created a golden opportunity for India to make itself a global manufacturing hub which will also fulfil the ‘Make in India’ initiative. In furtherance of this Cabinet of Uttar Pradesh has approved ‘Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020’ to create a favourable environment for global manufacturing companies. If it is signed by Governor of UP and President of India, it will suspend all labour law for three years except Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; Employee Compensation Act, 1923; Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 and Section 5 of Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and provisions related to women and children and will make the situation worse for the labour which is currently facing the unprecedented situation due to Covid-19. The paper will discuss the pitfalls of labour reforms so introduced.

Challenging the constitutionality

The aforementioned Labour reform is a bane directly hitting the constitutional regime established in India. As the ordinance will suspend laws in the concurrent list i.e. Entries 22, 23, 24, 55, 61 and 65, the assent of president is mandatory under Article 213(3). Such assent would provide a green flag to the ordinance. However, violation of fundamental rights would bring down its constitutionality.

By suspending Trade Unions Act, 1926 vide ordinance, it will directly violate the fundamental ‘right to form association’ established in All India Bank Employees’ Association v. National Industrial Tribunalby virtue of Article 19(1) (c). Though there are reasonable restrictions can be imposed to maintain public order, the present situation is outside the ambit of such restriction, mainly because restriction for a period of 3 years will deteriorate the situation of labourers and atrocities by employers will escalate.

Moreover, renouncing Factories Act, 1948 would put an end to the right to safe and healthy working environment thereby violating Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Unnecessary suspension would only lead to increased malfeasance rather than serving the purpose of increased productivity and investment.

Violation of Human Rights & ILO Standards

COVID-19 has negatively impacted the labour across the globe. The reforms will also contradict the recent recommendations by International Labour Organisation ensuring the protection of labour in this crisis as the regulations are employer centric rather than labour centric, giving excessive power to employer in hiring and firing employees as a result of suspension of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Freedom of association and right of collective bargaining has been recognised as basic rights by ILO, which are embedded in the Indian jurisprudence through Trade Unions Act, 1947.

Moreover, the suspension of Factories Act, 1948 will lead to disregarding the health guidelines mandated under Chapter III which are indispensable for protection of workers from the virus. Since, the new guidelines of ILO placed workers’ protection from infection on the top priority, the policy on the same line should have been framed by the government. However, the government drafted ordinance looking into only the economic perspective and reviving the economy by using financial measures, treating labourers as a mere tool to achieve the aforementioned objective without framing any rules regarding protection of labourers from the virus.

The Pandemic makes the workers vulnerable as they are forced to take risky decisions and they could not afford to lose their source of income, leading to a rise of modern slavery. The government added to the plight of such economically disadvantaged workers by coming up with policies of increased working hour with reduced benefits and curtailed labour rights. The tune of affected people worldwide due to such exploitation will be around 40 million people. In addition to it, the pandemic is going to widen the inequalities.

World Economic Forum has raised a concern that political leaders may manipulate human rights to serve confined interest. Also, UNHRC stated that the emergency rule should be strictly temporary along with proper judicial reasoning otherwise the possibility of violating international human rights law will be very high. The 3 year time period of suspension does not seem to be temporary and will in fact have a lasting impact on the Labour community.

According to ILO around 4,00,000 workers die due occupational problems, even in the presence of Factories Act, 1948 because of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Most of the workers are protected by the hazards as the employers are bound to follow the aforementioned enactment. However, in its absence, it can be estimated that such number is only going to increase and it is violation of Human right i.e. right to safe and healthy occupational environment. The situation will be aggravated as the demand of labour in UP will be less than supply due to the COVID-19 and migration of labour from other states to UP, this will certainly lead to reduction in the wages and termination of workers more frequently.

Impact on International Trade

WTO is functioning under the standards enacted by ILO for determining minimum labour standards in International trade. It is clear from the aforementioned discussion that there will be violation of fundamental rights of labourers if the ordinance is assented. This violation will have a direct negative impact on the export of goods manufactured by such labour, which directly contradict the object of economic growth of the country. There will also be an indirect impact on trade due to increased awareness of buyer about the conditions under which such goods are produced as they will restrain themselves from purchasing such products.

Conclusion

The decision to relax the labour laws for making a lucrative environment for the potential foreign investors comes at the cost of human rights and constitutional rights of crores of labourers. It might allow the industrialists to have best of their times but the labourers will definitely have to face worst in state of slavery and poor working conditions with meagre wages. Also, it is a mere prediction that new firms will enter Indian economy, if they do not, the whole object of such reforms will collapse with increased cases of labour exploitation. Many states are also coming out with such reforms which, considered wholly, will be detrimental to the labourers/ potential labourers, given the unemployment rate is very high in India. Also, contrary to the belief of government, increased number of working hours would only lead to reduction in productivity. Nevertheless, the government would be required to pay either proportionate or more for the overtime, leading to an overall loss.

Suggestions

As a means to revive the economy, the government should reduce the prices of raw materials and decrease taxes which are the major obstructers, hampering the potential investments in India rather than taking away the basic rights of workers.

Furthermore, flexibility of labour laws does not denote increase in production. However, non-availability of skilled labour is a factor which needs to be analysed and capitalised upon. The government should conduct training programmes to enhance the employability and productivity of worker for their socio-economic integration rather than exploiting them.

Author 1- Mr. Ayush Gattani, 3rd year B.B.A. LL.B. ( Hons.) students at National Law University, Jodhpur. 

Author 2- Mr. Vaibhav Kansara, 3rd year B.B.A. LL.B. ( Hons.) students at National Law University, Jodhpur. 

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Economy

Role of WTO in Regularization of International Trade

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International trade is one of the main features of the globalized world and global economy. There it needs also a well-organized institutional mechanism to regulate it. World Trade Organization is an international organization established in 1995, whose main objective is to facilitate trade relations among its member countries for their mutual benefits. Currently 164 states are its members. The activities and works of WTO are performing by a Secretariate of about 700 staff located in Geneva, Switzerland, led by the Director General. English, Spanish and French are the official languages of World Trade Organization. The annual budget of WTO is about 180 million dollars.

Since its creation it is playing an important role in the regularization of international trade. It offers a forum and facilitation for negotiating trade agreements in order to reduce the barriers in the way of smooth international trade among member countries. Thus, the role of this organization is playing very important role in the regularization of international trade which is contributing to economic development and growth of member countries in this globalized world. The World Trade Organization also offers an institutional structure and legal framework for the execution and supervising of the international trade related agreements which are very helpful in regularization of international trade. It also settles disputes, disagreements and conflicts occurring during the interpretation and execution of the components of the international agreements related to international trade. During the past 60 years, the World Trade Organization and its predecessor organization the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have assisted to establish a solid and flourishing global trade system, by this means helping to extraordinary international economic development.

The WTO is regularizing international trade more specifically through negotiating the decrease and finally elimination of barriers to trade among countries and try to make smoothly the working of the rules and principles governing the international trade e.g. tariffs, subsidies, product standards, and antidumping etc. It also administers and monitor the execution of the World Trade Organization’s determined guidelines for trade in services, goods as well as intellectual property rights related to international trade. It also monitors and review the member states international trade policies as well as make sure the transparency in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Likewise, it also solves disputes arising among members related to trade relations or related to the explanation of the provisions of the trade agreements. It also offers services to the governments of the developing states in the fields of capacity building of officers in matters related to international trade. WTO is also doing research on matters related to international trade and its related issues and collect data in order to find better solutions of the problems and obstacles in regularization of international trade. It is also trying to bring into the organization the 29 states who are yet not members of the organization aimed to assist and regulate their international trade according to the international standard.

One of the main barriers in way to international trade is disputes between the engaged parties. Since long this was a very critical issue limiting the trade among states. The WTO is playing very good and instrumental role in the solution of trade related disputes. Since the establishment of WTO in 1995 over 400 disputes related to trade have been brought by its member countries to WTO. The increasing number of bringing trade related disputes to WTO is showing the faith of member countries in the organization. Close trade relations have massive advantages but also create disputes and disagreements. With the increase of international trade, the possibility of its related disputes also increases. Previously, such problems and disagreements have caused in severe disputes. But at present, in the era of WTO the international trade related disputes are decreased because the member states have now dispute’s solution platform, and they are turning to the World Trade Organization to solve their trade related disagreements and disputes. Before the World War Second, there was not any such international organization or forum which could facilitate international trade and its related affairs, and there was also noany legal framework for solving trade related disputes among states of the word.

One of The World Trade Organization’s guiding principal is to continue the open boundaries for trade, ensure the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status among member countries and stop discriminatory behaviour of members towards other member(s) and bring transparency in doing international trade. It is also assisting counties to open their indigenous markets to global trade, with justified exemptions or with suitable flexibilities, promote and support to durable growth, reduce trade deficit, decrease poverty, and promote economic stability. It is also working to integrate different international trade policies and principles. The member countries of WTO are also under the compulsion to bring their trade related disputes to this organization and avoid unilateral actions. WTO is the central pillar of the current international trade system.

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Economy

Russia and France to strengthen economic cooperation

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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Economy

Iran’s Economic Diplomacy through CPEC

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U.S. sanctions against Iran are characterized by strategic flexibility and adaptability. They are designed to have maximum negative and deterrent effect on Iran’s military, economic and diplomatic growth.  Tehran is exploring ways to counter these sanctions most probably by economic engagements with the regional countries. Iran’s perception of CPEC lends some credit to this argument.

Since the initiation of CPEC, the regional perception has already started to change as many countries have begun to see the project within the domain of their national interests. Iran has expressed its long-standing interests to join the CPEC viewing the corridor as a cornerstone for the country economic prosperity and regional connectivity.

Iran solely focuses more on the economic aspect of CPEC. Regional connectivity through CPEC can boost Iran’s stake in the global output. In 2015, on the sidelines of the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) address, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani expressed a desire to be the part of CPEC. He emphasized the importance of connectivity projects for the region. Iran’s initial reluctance to CPEC was transformative in nature and heavily came down with the unfolding of new geoeconomic realities.

Iran’s inclination for the CPEC project even becomes the part of official discourse. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Monardost showed keen interest to participate in the CPEC and named it as one of the greatest projects in the history of the region. He envisioned a great boost to bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran under the framework of this regional connectivity corridor. In 2017, Iran’s economy minister Ali Tayyebnia participated in the New Silk Road summit. He praised the New Silk Road concept for regional connectivity.

Iran’s economy is already clutched due to the international sanctions invoked by the Trump administration after pulling back from the Iranian Nuclear Agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018.Downplaying the perception of geopolitical competition between Gwadar and Chabahar, Iran higher officials negated the impression of competition falsely exaggerated by International and India media and insisted on the complementary nature of two ports.

In 2016,Iran and India signed an agreement for the development of Chabahar port and it was view as the counterweight to Gwadar port. Without explicitly mentioning India by name, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Syed Mohammad Ali Hoseeni defended the decision of his country to drop out India from the project in Chabahar by stating “when some foreign governments found reluctant in their relations with Iran and need other’s permission for even their normal interactions, for sure they would not be capable of planning and implementing such long-term cooperation contracts”.

The same rhetoric appears in the views of Chinese leadership. Brushing aside the allegations of Iran’s perceived resistance to CPEC and Gwadar port, Iran’s foreign minister Jawad Zarif dismissed the allegations and supported growth and development anywhere in Pakistan.

Chabahar is often seen as a rival to Gwadar port. However, Indian discourse has got an altogether different lease of life in the media compared to the Iranian one. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi honardoost utterly disregarded the narrative of competition of two ports. He invited both Pakistan and China to closely work in Chabahar port.

China considers Iran as an important country for its energy security, BRI and in the larger context of global competition with USA. China dual role both in Gwadar and Chabahar, according to the analysts, will likely reduce the impression of competition between two ports. Chinese stance on the Chabahar port also complement the Iran’s position on Chabahar. Chinese premier Le Keqiang rejected the notion that Chabahar port is in competition with the Gwadar. He is convinced with the idea that both ports have the potential to complement each other.

Tehran global status goes upward with the emerging financial and diplomatic backing of China. Beijing openly backs Tehran in the face of U.S. might.  On March 26, 2021, China and Iran signed an agreement expressing a desire to increase cooperation and trade relations over the next 25 years. Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, said that USA should rescind the sanctions against Iran. The 25 years deal is considered as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to Tehran Times analysts Peyman Hassani and Ammar Hossein Arabpour, this deal is considered a relief to Iran’s gas and oil sector against USA sanctions.

USA sanctions forcefully bar the countries from purchasing oil from Iran. The US Department of Defense’s report notes that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) focus on pipelines and port construction. Pakistan’s reluctance to follow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which is stalled due to American pressure can be reviewed, too much sigh of relief for Tehran’s energy export.

Triangular relations of China, Pakistan and Iran will likely put Iran on the strong footing. Richard Caplan, a professor of international relations at the university of Oxford, notes, “The agreement which predates Biden, undercuts U.S. efforts to isolate Iran economically and, to some extent, diplomatically.

Diplomatic and economic isolation remain at the center of Iran’s foreign policy under the severe U.S. sanctions. Iran’s perceptions of CPEC revolves around the same fact that through regional engagements under CPEC and BRI, it can tackle its global problems to some extent.

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