Special: A hawk eye on labour law violations

Kozhikode-born Sindhu’s compliance monitoring firm protects labourers in west asia from exploitation.

Kozhikode: The Kozhikode-born Sindhu P. Kavinnamannil, a Certified Fraud Examiner from Defense Acquisition University in the US, became aware of the murky world of labour law violations by corporate firms on a summer’s day when the temperature was hovering around 51 degree Celsius in Kuwait city.

As the Chief Compliance Officer of PWC Logistics in the Middle East, she had the firsthand experience of witnessing the recurring violation of labour laws by sub-contracting firms engaged by US corporate companies including government establishments in the Middle East.

“There are hundreds of cases of violation of elementary rights of workers and my work in the Middle East was focused mainly on US companies and contractors working in the region on behalf of the US Government”, said Sindhu.

During her three-year stint in the Middle East, she found that hundreds of people from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states were defrauded by labour brokers. “I was able to help some of them”, she said.

But more than that, Sindhu, along with her partner and husband Sam W. McCahon, worked very closely with the US Congress in developing legislation that seeks to hold US companies accountable for their Middle Eastern subcontractors who use deceptive labour practices.

Sindhu has also worked closely with the White House to draft an order signed by President Barak Obama holding contractors accountable for deceptive labour practices involving workers or ‘third country nationals’, as they are known popularly. “These two initiatives will immensely benefit Indians working in the Middle East region”, she said.

Recounting one of her earliest experiences, Sindhu said: “As I was driving down to my office in Kuwait in 2006, I saw a man carrying a long stick and beating some men and shouting obscenities at them”. The man was trying to keep a bunch of people in line till their food arrived. I stopped the vehicle and enquired about the commotion.

Then a person whom I shall call Kumar from South India (not his original name) stepped forward and narrated their ordeal, which included confiscation of their passports, non-payment of the promised salary, appalling living conditions and working hours lasting 12 hours or more”. For the next couple of years Sindhu encountered similar stories in many places in the Middle East, including Iraq.

The main problems migrant workers from India or other places in the Middle East face include lack of awareness about labour rights, ignorance of local laws and the complete indifference shown by the regulatory agencies.

The people most likely to become victims of human labour trafficking in the Middle East are nationals of poor countries like India, Pakistan, Bangaldesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.

Compliance monitoring was a well developed profession in the US, she said. As the name itself suggests, the job of a compliance monitoring professional is to document all violations in a meticulous manner and report them to the relevant government agencies.

“Compliance monitoring covers a wide area, like for example, financial propriety, labour, gender sensitivity and several other issues. I focus more on labour-related compliance monitoring”, Sindhu said.

The job involves investigating and unravelling the nexus between labour contractors, sub-contracting companies, HR departments and the various means employed by such an alliance in denying the legitimate rights of the workers.

The job is very tough as one encounters stonewalling of information at every stage. “The perpetrators of the crime make big money and they use all means available with them to keep the truth under wraps”, she said.

“The one advantage I have is my multi-linguistic skill. I speak Malayalam, Tamil, Urdu and Hindi besides English and my skills have helped me in breaking the walls of silence during my stint in the Middle East”, she added.

Next: ‘Compliance has an open market’

‘Compliance has an open market’

Pooja Nair|DC

“The ability to help my own people while living in another country is a major source of satisfaction I derive from my profession”, says Sindhu Kavinnamannil who has been working as a compliance officer for the past seven years.

Most people limit human trafficking to sex trafficking alone, but there are many areas of human trafficking wherein labour trafficking comes first on the list, she says. Due to ignorance and lack of awareness many people get trapped in labour trafficking.

The role of NGOs in helping victims of such trafficking is vital. “But what I feel is that we should strive for a system that provides no scope for such violations”, she said.

“The scope for career compliance monitoring is very good in the US as there exists a well developed market for it”, says Sindhu who set up her own independent compliance monitoring business with offices in both Washington and Kozhikode. The scope for the profession is also developing in the UK, especially in the finance sector, she says.

“I chose to open an office in Kozhikode because it is my native place and my parents are settled here”, she said. On the scope of such a profession in India, she said the concept had not caught on here. But with a lot of companies from the US and the UK setting up offices or joint ventures in India, the market may develop in the coming years.

“A compliance officer is responsible for developing policies to mitigate the practice, to conduct audits regarding violations and create awareness amongst the management and employees, of the prohibited conduct”, she added.

“I am also working on the issue of the increase in sex trafficking from India to other countries”, she said. But it was in its preliminary stage, she said, and added that the labour conditions in the apparel industry in Tamil Nadu was also an area of concern.

( Source : dc )
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