TUC joint statement with Indian unions calling for halt to UK-India trade talks

Oct 2022
United Nations
Trade, India

We call for the UK government to suspend trade negotiations with India until the Indian government shows respect for International Labour Organisation conventions and civil liberties.

The TUC and INTUC, HMS, CFTUI and SEWA collectively represent over 52 million workers in India and the UK.  We believe trade deals and trade rules should drive a race to the top in working standards and decrease global inequalities.

Low pay and exploitative conditions are widespread in India, with forced and child labour found in a number of industries including textiles, silk[1], brick manufacturing, shipbreaking[2], embroidery, hospitality and tobacco.  In 2020, India adopted labour laws that severely limit the right to strike and workers’ right to collectively bargain with employers.[3]  

India has not ratified all the fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, including those on freedom of association, collective bargaining and health and safety at work. In November 2020 the Indian government violently suppressed strikes to protest against these labour laws and passing agricultural reforms that would threaten the livelihoods of millions of farmers.[4] Furthermore, anti-terrorist laws ,such as the Unlawful Practices Prevention Act (UAPA), are being used to imprison thousands of trade unionists.

Civil liberties have also been undermined by the Citizenship Act that denies citizenship rights to Muslims, and by the rhetoric of India’s Prime Minister which has incited hatred and attacks against Muslims, Dalits and other minority groups.[5]

We are concerned that a trade deal with India could make it easier for companies to outsource more operations to India, attracted to the lower pay and conditions.  It also could make it easier for companies to send workers from India to the UK without providing them with collectively agreed rates of pay or decent working conditions. This will pressure workers’ rights to be lowered globally.    

There is a risk that a trade deal with India could displace Indian workers from good jobs and undermine domestic industries by reducing tariffs too much on sectors such as manufacturing, particularly women worker who are disproportionately likely to be employed on temporary or insecure contracts.  This will increase gender inequalities further.

Finally, the TUC is concerned that a UK-India trade deal may remove tariffs on India’s agricultural sector which are crucial for protecting India’s ability to produce its own food supply and support employment in the sector which employs almost half the workforce in India.

Any trade deal involving the UK and India should contain the following key elements:

  • provisions to effectively enforce all fundamental ILO conventions and the ILO Decent Work agenda, including ensuring gender equality, stopping violence against women and decent conditions for workers in the informal sector.  Trade unions must be able to trigger investigations when abuses of labour standards occur. There must be the possibility for sanctions to be imposed against companies as well as countries found to be abusing labour standards – as is now possible in the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.  Ratification of all the fundamental ILO conventions should be a pre-condition for any deal.;
  • support for subsidy schemes that strengthen respect workers’ rights and collective bargaining agreements;
  • protections for the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers– any agreement must allow migrant workers and asylum seekers to enforce their rights, regardless of their immigration status;
  • protections for the right of governments to use public procurement and state-owned enterprises to support economic development, improve working conditions and pursue social and environmental objectives;
  • protection for governments’ policy space to regulate investment and use industrial policy tools to promote decent job creation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  • protections for all public services by completely excluding all public services such as health, education and transport;
  • protections for the government to implement policies to ensure food security;
  • protections for governments’ ability to implement policies necessary to protect consumers and workers through data integrity, security and privacy measures, and prevent the misuse of data for any form of discrimination;
  • protections for the right of governments to regulate the cross-border flow of data, require companies to have a local presence, access source code and algorithms and maintain privacy and consumer protections to protect public health and prevent discrimination;
  • exclusions for all kinds of special courts for foreign investors such as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allow foreign investors to sue governments for actions that threaten their profits;
  • exclusions for extensions of patent protection or data exclusivity periods for pharmaceutical drugs;
  • commitments for our governments to support environmental protections, implement the Paris Agreement and policies to support Just Transition; and
  • expansion of cooperation to combat unfair trade practices including strong antidumping and countervailing duty provisions, and prevent circumvention and evasion of action taken.

[1] Surge (2021) ‘Slaves to silk’, available at:…

[2] Shipbreaking Platform (2021) ‘South Asia Quarterly update 26’, available at:…

[3] ITUC (2020) ‘Indian parliament passes laws that attack the rights of working people’, available at:

[4] War on Want (2021) ‘ The UK labour movement standards in solidarity with farmers in India’, available at:…

[5] TUC (2020) ‘The rise of the far right – building a trade union response’, available at:

*This was originally published on the TUC website.

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