Bonded labour in Pakistan: An overview

This paper responds to some queries about the situation of debt bonded labour in Pakistan. Due to limitations of time, the paper is largely based upon a small set of interviews with government and non-governmental organizations in Sindh and Punjab, and upon some secondary material.

This paper, based upon interviews with Government and non-governmental sources in Pakistan, as well as a survey of several thousand sharecropping tenant families in rural Sindh, was written as background material for the first ILO Global Report under the Declaration Follow-Up on the subject of Forced Labour. It is presented as a working paper in view of its pioneering nature in terms of (a) close field interaction with bonded labourers and (b) an effort to quantify this complex phenomenon. The survey methodology uses noninstitutional debt and the practice of a particular form of unpaid labour (begar) as proxies for debt bondage. Other methodologies are possible. Irrespective of methodology, it is clear that forced labour arises whenever restrictions are placed on the mobility of the employee/tenant. The interactive method of investigation adopted by this study high-lights also how forced labour might occur, depending upon the degree of choice between work and leisure available employees and their families, pointing to the need for further work on both the formal and informal contractual relations governing such work. This paper is published at a time when the Government of Pakistan is taking important steps to address the problems of bonded labour, through a National Action Plan focussing on the release of bonded labour and rehabilitation of freed familes.