Study on Prevalence of Bonded Labour in Tamil Nadu

This study involved developing and testing a robust and comprehensive tool to estimate the prevalence of bonded labour in the state of Tamil Nadu. 

According to the Global Slavery Index 2016, there are 18.3 million people living under modern-day slavery in India. These include bonded labor, a system of forced labor, where an individual is bonded to their employer to work for minimum (sometimes without) pay as a means to pay back a loan. An ancient practice, it is deeply entrenched in India. Employers prey on vulnerable populations, targeting the poor, unskilled migrants, caste and religious minorities, children etc. The presence of legal sanctions and strict laws have done little to deter instances of bonded labor. This study will examine the prevalence of bonded labour through the creation of a survey tool to identify bonded laborers in different types of worksites.
The study was conducted in collaboration with the International Justice Mission, across Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Thiruvannamalai and Vellore districts of Tamil Nadu. The sample captured representation from businesses such as rice mills, brick kilns, rock quarries, wood cutting and charcoal, Plantations and farms. The variables to be included in the instrument were identified by way of stakeholder consultations with experts, literature review of existing instruments used and drawing from existing conventions and guidelines prepared by organisations like IOM, ILO etc. In order to get a clearer picture of ground realities, consultations with stakeholders – case analysts, lawyers, social workers, rehabilitated individuals and partner organizations, were conducted. This ensured that the instrument captured various forms of bonded labor, as well as covered the extent of bonded labor in Tamil Nadu.

Key Findings

Locating and surveying the sample population was a challenging task, especially for populations in remote locations. Estimating the prevalence rates for these population segments with a reasonable degree of accuracy requires a large sample size. With no listing data available, the researchers faced the added challenge of not knowing the respondent’s location. To address this barrier, we worked with our partner organizations to narrow down the geographies and industries which had a higher probability of bonded labour incidence. In undertaking a challenging study of this nature, strong partnerships with local partners such as the labour department, non-government organizations and community-based organizations was an essential part of the field plan. Conducting a prevalence study with a survey method involves a particular time constraint which impedes the surveyor’s capacity to build trust in order to gain more truthful answers from respondents.

Findings from this study bridge an important gap in the methods and tools used to estimate the prevlance of bonded labor in India. The survey tool developed through this study can aid in identifing groups that are susceptible to engage in bonded labour, regardless of their socio-economic conditions. It will also open up avenues for further research and present opportunities for state intervention in this space. 

Thematic Area

Small, Growing Businesses and Employment

Project Leads

John Victor Arun Kumar, Shailender Swaminathan


Tamil Nadu


International Justice Mission