Friday, 20 July 2007


Towards Privatisation of Affirmative Action in India

One of the key issues concerning the realisation of human rights, in my view, is: could corporations (and other private sector organisations) be made to join hands with states and civil society organs in accomplishing this project? I explored elsewhere this issue with reference to the constitutional provisions in India. It seem that there is a growing realisation that unless corporations take on board the constitutional mandate of human rights protection, the ever-expanding scope of fundamental rights in India would not go far.

One context in which this issue has become more apparent is the affirmative action provisions under the Indian Constitution. For sometime now, discussions are taking place if these affirmative action provisions should be extended, by amending the Constitution and/or by enacting a law, to apply to the private sector. On 24 may 2007, while addressing the annual general meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh launched a Ten-Point Social Charter for a more inclusive growth. The Point Three of the Charter deals with the role of private sector vis-à-vis affirmative action: “… industry must be pro-active in offering employment to the less privileged, at all levels of the job ladder. The representation companies give to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other Backward Classes, Minorities and Women, in their workforce and staff must increase.”

CII has also released a Report on Affirmative Action and has formulated a voluntary Code of Conduct to be followed by member companies. The Report outlines several laudable concrete steps that CII seeks to take. However, at the same time the Report puts on record the opposition to “any legislation that would compromise the sanctity of its non-negotiable freedom of choice in employment”. CII is also gathering data in relation to the employment of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Many leading companies have already started institutionalising the policy of affirmative action and include this in their annual reports.

Although I expect the road to privatisation of affirmative action in India to be bumpy, it is likely that no roll back would be possible as long as we live in the era of corporate raj.
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