Thematic Chapters – Chapter 2

Addressing barriers to equitable employment for minorities and indigenous peoples: The need for a holistic approach

Michael Caster

The right to work, which includes the right to freely choose one’s employment without discrimination of any kind, is a fundamental human right, recognized under international law.[1]

Nevertheless, globally, ongoing discrimination and the lack of representation of minorities and indigenous peoples across employment sectors mean that the full enjoyment of these rights is often denied, impacting negatively on the whole community. These inequalities are interdependent in that, while discrimination and the denial of employment have a significant impact on other rights, the reverse is also true: the denial of other rights, such as the right to education and the right to legal representation, also fuels the denial of employment rights. Indigenous peoples, in particular, have increasingly been separated from their unique cultures and livelihood strategies while also facing exclusion from employment and political representation. Indigenous and minority women face additional intersectional discrimination, marginalization and other issues. Newer challenges, such as the digitalization or automation of the workforce, have further exacerbated challenges to accessing employment and other economic opportunities.

This chapter explores the ways minorities and indigenous peoples have faced employment discrimination and struggled to remove barriers to representation. In particular, it explores:

  • the broader employment-related challenges faced by indigenous peoples, with special attention to traditional causes of employment discrimination and changing opportunities through upskilling in a digital economy in the contexts of Australia and Canada;
  • the interplay between employment under-representation in law enforcement and police prejudice towards minority populations, and wider structural harassment of them, with particular reference to the under-representation of Muslims among the police in India and the rate of police prejudice and violence against minorities;
  • the challenges of inter-generational inequality and breaking the cycle of employment discrimination, drawing out the importance of access to justice for Haratines in Mauritania, especially relating to the denial of national identity documents necessary for access to education, in order to break free of inter-generational immiseration and to access formal employment;
  • the challenges faced by minority populations in migrant labour and efforts to address them, focusing on legal distinctions and formal structures of inequality that negatively contribute to the situation of Myanmar ethnic minority migrants in Thailand and the positive efforts of civil society organizations working with these communities.

Together, these disparate examples illustrate the importance of a holistic approach to labour rights and fair working conditions, looking at the impact of barriers in other areas on the ability of minorities and indigenous peoples to access equitable employment, as well as the broader transformative potential that employment can have in relation to the rights and wellbeing of these communities.

Closing the indigenous ‘digital divide’ and other obstacles to employment

In 2021, on behalf of the non-profit Inclusive Australia, researchers at Monash University revealed that the percentage of First Nations peoples who reported experiencing some form of major discrimination had increased from 28.6 per cent in 2018 to 49.7 per cent in 2020, with LGBTQ+ Indigenous people reporting the highest rate of intersectional discrimination. Examples given were ‘being unfairly denied a job or promotion, or discouraged from continuing education’.[2] These experiences are emblematic of discrimination and employment obstacles faced by indigenous peoples around the world.

Globally, indigenous peoples face employment-related disparities, shaped by ongoing and intergenerational marginalization, and further complicated by contemporary challenges such as the lack of equal education opportunities, loss of traditional lands, urbanization, climate change, digitalization and automation of the workforce, and most recently the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. This inequality is demonstrated by International Labour Organization (ILO) observations of a global wage gap where indigenous people earn on average 18.5 per cent less than non-indigenous earners, though in some regions the disparities are markedly higher: for instance, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the wage gap rises to 31.2 per cent.[3] One contributing factor in this regard is the fact that indigenous people tend to be disproportionately employed in informal economies, with less economic security or labour protections. Again, the informality gap is most pronounced in Latin America and the Caribbean, where indigenous peoples make up some 82.6 per cent of those employed in informal economies.[4] On the other hand, indigenous peoples in Latin America have tended to enjoy greater frequency of legal recognition than indigenous communities in Asia or Africa.

One challenge to indigenous employment opportunities has been the loss of traditional territories, restricting their ability to maintain economic and livelihood opportunities from traditional occupations tied to the land. According to the Indigenous Navigator, an online data collection tool, indigenous peoples cite military interventions on indigenous lands, the presence of non-state armed actors, land grabbing, pollution by large enterprises and the criminalization of traditional practices as the leading causes of the loss of livelihoods and occupations tied to the land.[5]

Loss of land has also fuelled migration to cities and across borders. This is particularly pronounced in Latin America, where some 50 per cent of the indigenous population has migrated to urban areas, and in Argentina that number rises to more than 80 per cent. Cities can provide more employment, health and education opportunities than comparably available in rural areas: in Peru, for example, indigenous peoples are 37 per cent more likely to be poor if they live in rural areas. However, across the board, indigenous peoples’ urban employment opportunities also come with new insecurities, from labour and health risks to housing discrimination and exposure to crime.

Of course, urbanization can provide new livelihood strategies, but it can also threaten traditional cultures and occupations. Access to traditional lands and occupations, especially agriculture, is important for cultural practices as well as for creating economic opportunities. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, indigenous communities that were able to engage in agriculture were not only more food-secure themselves but were able to generate additional income selling food to non-indigenous communities.

Recognizing that indigenous land management is intrinsic to culture, identity and employment, one innovative digital project in Australia is the Indigenous Mapping Workshop (IMW). Through trainings and capacity-building with local organizations, IMW provides geospatial technologies and skills to First Nations organizations to undertake the mapping of their territories themselves. These sorts of programmes not only empower communities with enhanced geospatial imaging skills to tell cultural narratives of space and challenge the loss of traditional lands, they also deliver a competitive skillset that opens up new opportunities in the changing digital economy.

This is crucial because, when it comes to education, indigenous people in both rural and urban areas face obstacles to completing school and earning diplomas, limiting their future employment and livelihood opportunities. Progressing to higher education is a particular challenge, especially for indigenous women. This is due in part, UNESCO has observed, to poor school infrastructure in rural areas and the lack of culturally appropriate education services in urban areas, such as indigenous language education curricula. The lack of facilities for indigenous children with disabilities has also been highlighted as an obstacle to obtaining education and a barrier to future labour market opportunities. The remote education required in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated education obstacles, especially in light of the digital divide between First Nations children and their peers. According to 2020 data from the Australia Education Union, for example, more than one in five (21 per cent) of First Nations students had no access to internet at home, compared to 5 per cent for all public school students in the country.[6]

In addition to education, the digital divide creates serious obstacles for indigenous people accessing the workforce. In Australia, for example, 87 per cent of jobs require digital skills.[7] Recognizing the barriers to indigenous access to education, employment and other societal and economic benefits caused by the digital divide, some countries are exploring policy solutions. In Australia, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap seeks to ensure equal digital inclusion for First Nations peoples by 2026. The Canadian government has announced similar plans through the Universal Broadband Fund to ensure that 98 per cent of the country is connected to highspeed internet by 2026, with explicitly stated commitments to improving access for Indigenous communities.

Addressing the digital divide and providing education for new digital skillsets will have a direct impact on improving Indigenous people’s access to employment in Canada. For example, a recent Royal Bank of Canada report found that even though Indigenous people in Canada create new businesses at a rate nine times the national average, they remain affected by the digital divide.[8] What is more, according to research funded by the Canadian government’s Future Skills Program, nearly 34 per cent of all Indigenous workers are concentrated in sectors at risk of labour loss due to automation.[9] These include forms of self-employment, and work in social assistance, retail trade, construction and food services.

With that in mind, one group of Canadian Indigenous entrepreneurs has found an innovative way of protecting traditional Indigenous occupations and expanding Indigenous employment opportunities through digitalization. Formed in early 2021, Indigenous Box is a seasonal online subscription delivery service that highlights the work of different Indigenous artisans from art to beauty products, food and houseware. In a year, Indigenous Box’s customer base has grown into the thousands and represents one model for preserving Indigenous occupations through adaptation to the digital economy.

On Twitch, the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform most popular among gamers, minority and indigenous users are also finding new ways of promoting their unique cultures and earning a livelihood from traditional occupations. In Canada, for example, Jon-Ross Merasty- Moose, a Cree gamer and founder of Moose Tree Gaming, uses his Twitch channel to create a community for the thousands of other Indigenous and non-indigenous gamers who tune into his daily streams. While streamers can earn money through donations and subscriptions, Merasty-Moose says what he is doing is also about creating opportunities to connect and share Indigenous stories and culture with non-indigenous people.[10]

Perhaps one of the most famous indigenous Twitch users is a Māori traditional woodcarver who streams under the account name Broxh_ and at the time of writing has accumulated 1.6 million followers. While also streaming gameplay, what Broxh_ is best known for is his livestreaming of traditional Māori woodcarving. He has become so popular that even New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made a cameo on his Twitch stream. In a March 2021 interview, Broxh_ told Te Ao Māori News that he earns roughly NZD10,000 a month from his subscribers, money he reinvests into his stream and uses to support his family. However, he has also noted that while the money and the views are welcome, he says that by inspiring the younger generation to look at what has been passed down by the ancestors, traditional practices like woodcarving will live on.[11] This is surely an inspiring example of indigenous people using new technologies to promote traditional practices and occupations and find innovative means of employment.

Minorities and the problem of under-representation in India’s police force

In December 2019, India’s parliament passed a new citizenship law known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which human rights organizations have widely criticized as part of wider anti-Muslim policies under the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Following the passage of CAB, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest both for and against the legislation across India through early 2020. In some places, the protests gave rise to some of the most extreme intercommunal tensions in decades, with widespread violence including many reported deaths. In Delhi, among other places, eyewitnesses alleged that Indian police not only failed to protect targeted minorities but, in some cases, actually incited – and even participated in – violence against them. These accounts have since been corroborated by in-depth investigative reporting based on testimony of some of the perpetrators.[12]

This and similar accusations of police prejudice and violence across India have been fuelled by numerous factors. In addition to the acts of public violence, this prejudice has also resulted in systemic wrongful convictions and long-term incarceration of Muslims, including in high-profile terror cases. It is worth acknowledging that there are caste and class differences among India’s Muslim communities that affect experiences of inequality and abuse. For example, lower caste Muslims, commonly known as Pasmanda Muslims, suffer at much higher rates from police atrocities than do richer Ashraf Muslims.

At the same time, under-representation in law enforcement contributes to police prejudices. According to a 2019 report by Tata Trusts, analysing long-term data between 1999 and 2013, Muslim representation in the Indian police force has remained ‘consistently low’, at between 3 and 4 per cent (excluding Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir).[13] In Delhi, meanwhile, as of 2020 when the violence took place, just 2 per cent of the city’s police force were Muslim, despite making up 13 per cent of New Delhi’s population.[14] The lack of representation is even more acute when Muslim identity intersects with other factors such as gender. Only around 10 per cent of the country’s police are women, most of whom are employed at the lower echelons of the force:[15] though specific data on the proportion of minority women is not available, it is likely they represent only a very small proportion of police.

Other minority populations in India have different levels of representation in law enforcement. Dalits, officially known as Scheduled Castes, who comprise over 16 per cent of the total population, make up around 14 per cent of the police force. The only exception to this trend of under-representation is indigenous Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis, who make up some 8.6 per cent of India’s total population but have some 12 per cent representation in law enforcement.[16] Nevertheless – a point that illustrates that discrimination is about more than just quotas and absolute representation – non-Muslim minority populations also report profiling and bias. A 2018 study by Common Cause and the Lokniti-Programme for Comparative Democracy at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) noted that, while Muslims face widespread perceptions of being implicated in terrorism-related cases, some Adivasis fear being falsely implicated as Maoist insurgents.[17]

While Indian Muslims are underrepresented in law enforcement, they tend to be disproportionately over-represented among the prison population. One reason for this is the widespread perception among police officers that Muslims are more likely to commit crimes, meaning that when a crime occurs they are more likely to be rounded up and implicated in fabricated cases. Recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau reveals that Muslims make up nearly a fifth of the prison population, while Dalits and Adivasis also make up a disproportionate share.[18] According to the National Law University in Delhi, more than three-quarters of India’s death row population is from lower castes or religious minorities.[19]

While there are myriad, interconnected structural factors leading to police profiling and violence, poor training and a lack of diversity in law enforcement arguably contribute to these long-lasting structural challenges. Nevertheless, it is of course too reductive to assume that improving diversity in the police force would on its own be sufficient to address persistent discrimination. Among other structural changes, education and policy efforts are needed, as well as paying particular attention to the role of social media in glorifying or inciting violence against Muslims. However, when it comes to the role of the government in promoting the protection of minorities, in addition to looking at the positions held by minorities within law enforcement and politics, it remains vital to document police complicity in violence against minority populations and to hold perpetrators accountable.

Haratine labour rights and the legacy of slavery in Mauritania

Mauritania only abolished slavery in 1981, making it the last country in the world to do so. Despite this and other steps, including the formal criminalization of slavery in 2007, the lack of concrete measures to enforce these legal changes has meant that Haratine people – a traditionally hereditary slave caste also known as ‘Black Moors’ – remain exposed to the vulnerabilities of forced and under-remunerated labour.

Despite their history of marginalization, Haratines are the largest ethnic group in the country, comprising more than 40 per cent of Mauritania’s total population. While there is no official data on the number of people who remain enslaved, by some estimates at least half of Mauritania’s Haratine population remains in some form of de facto slavery. Meanwhile, Mauritanian authorities persist in denying that slavery exists and intimidate those campaigning against it. Haratine women face additional intersectional vulnerabilities, reporting greater risks of violence in both public and private spheres, such as sexual violence including marital rape, domestic violence and sexual assault. Haratines with disabilities likewise face a number of additional obstacles to accessing livelihood strategies and employment.

Across the board, as observed in a 2017 report by the then UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston, Haratines are excluded from almost all positions of power and aspects of economic life condemning them to poverty. Their political marginalization has persisted to this day. Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review of Mauritania before the UN Human Rights Council in January 2021, several organizations noted widespread repression for Haratine rights defenders, including arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. Some Haratine rights organizations, such as Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), have also faced arbitrary registration obstacles, which is itself a form of employment interference. Despite facing harassment and abuse, human rights defenders continue to engage in legal and policy advocacy to address Haratine rights violations, including employment discrimination issues, of which there are many.

In many cases, technically freed Haratines and their descendants remain indentured to their former masters, often continuing to work for them under exploitative conditions, maintaining a state of economic dependency that prevents them from freely choosing other employment. This is compounded by the fact that enslaved and freed Haratines alike are often forced to hand over savings or possessions to their masters at their death, rather than passing them on to their dependants.

Haratines face a number of forms of persistent and inter-generational discrimination in land rights, legal recognition, inheritance and other areas that directly impact employment opportunities, especially education. The then UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues Rita Izsák-Ndiaye observed in 2016 that in Mauritania more than 80 per cent of Haratines do not graduate from primary school, and make up only some 5 per cent of students in higher education.[20] While they are enslaved, Haratines are seldom permitted an education or access to vocational training except for work in domestic servitude or tasks relating to ranching or farming. Illiteracy rates are high, and as such even those who manage to escape enslavement have very limited employment prospects as a result.

This low rate of enrolment in higher education translates into very limited representation in sectors such as law and politics where formal qualifications are required or preferred, further complicating the struggle to roll back repressive laws and policies through legal advocacy and political participation. One example in this regard is the ongoing problem of identity documentation, an issue that contributes to the exclusion of Haratines from education and ultimately many kinds of formal employment. Although education in Mauritania is compulsory up to the age of 14, school directors have considerable discretion over the admission of Haratine students, who often lack civil registration documents. Progression to higher education is more complicated as a result of rules from the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education requiring applicants for national school exams to complete biometric registration and have national identity documents. These barriers are especially challenging for Haratines, who make up the overwhelming majority of people unable to obtain national identity documents.

The obstacles Haratines face in obtaining identity documents create challenges beyond access to education, from qualifying for government benefits and voting to owning land and obtaining employment in formal economies. The bureaucracy involved in obtaining identity documents is complicated and beyond the means of many of those most affected. Appeals must be brought before special courts, and additional bureaucratic measures are often introduced into law and practice that further deter Haratine applicants. It is not known how many people have been impacted in this way: the Mauritanian government either does not know or is unwilling to disclose the scope of the unregistered population. The implications for those affected, however, are devastating. Haratines who lack identity documents face impediments in accessing employment and vocational training. Furthermore, without national identity documents they are also prevented from choosing economic or labour migration as a livelihood strategy, since international travel is either impossible or comes with the extreme risks of smuggling and other forms of exploitation.

One of the most significant obstacles to obtaining identity documents is, as noted above, the complicated nature of the process. For example, in order for a child to obtain a national identity document they must provide their birth certificate, a copy of both parents’ national identity documents or death certificates, and a copy of the parents’ marriage certificate. However, birth and marriage certificates issued before 1998 are invalid for the application process, adding another layer of bureaucracy for those who would then first need to renew old documents before later registering their children. Applicants must present these documents at the civil registration centre closest to where they were born, which likewise creates challenges if the applicant is unable to travel easily back there. The Mauritanian organization SOS-Esclaves, with support from MRG and Anti-Slavery International, has been campaigning for changes to these requirements. Recommendations include ensuring that identity documents are processed through accelerated mechanisms, free of charge, and with both financial and administrative assistance to ensure that children are registered.

Another area Haratine legal advocacy has focused on is challenging the requirement to present the national identity documents or relevant certificates of both parents. This requirement presents often insurmountable challenges in cases where children are the result of their mothers being raped by former masters during periods of enslavement. Requiring the master’s/father’s documents to register their offspring assumes compliance of potentially hostile or resistant parties. Haratine rights groups in Mauritania have been campaigning to change the requirement to the mother’s documentation only; this would be a small gesture that would go a long way in expanding access to national identity documents for Haratines and help to open new employment opportunities for them.

Securing greater recognition for Myanmar’s migrant workers in Thailand

As noted elsewhere in this chapter, some minority populations and indigenous peoples face discrimination and obstacles to employment or being divested of their traditional lands due to conflict or climate change, leading to labour migration as a livelihood strategy. While migration can provide new economic opportunities, sometimes including employment in otherwise inaccessible sectors, it often relies on seasonal wage labour, and can introduce new vulnerabilities such as arrest or exploitation.

For example, lured by the pretence of economic opportunities, minority and indigenous populations seeking better employment farther from home have also been subjected to human trafficking, forced labour and sexual exploitation. This is particularly evident in Asia, especially for indigenous girls and women throughout the Mekong region who are vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation. Cases have been documented in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar and elsewhere. In Thailand, indigenous girls aged 12 to 16 make up the majority of victims of internal trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation.

Thailand is emblematic of broader issues faced by migrant workers, often ethnic minorities, from neighbouring countries. This is especially pronounced for ethnic minorities from Myanmar, some of whom also identify as indigenous peoples. Thailand is estimated to host close to 4 million migrant workers from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Vietnam, including a sizeable undocumented population.[21] Migrants from Myanmar, by some margin the largest sending country to Thailand, face different experiences across ethnic groups and locations within Thailand. For example, Shan migrants from Myanmar tend to be more represented in northern Thailand, around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and to work across sectors, although especially in construction, agriculture, domestic services and hospitality. In Mae Sot, on the other hand, closer to the Myanmar border, Karen, Arakan and other migrants tend to be more represented in the garment industry or agriculture, while Burmese Muslims are often involved in informal trading. Mon migrants tend to be more concentrated in the central Thailand provinces of Samut Sakhon and Bangkok.

Shan migrants, with cultural and linguistic similarities between Thailand and Laos, have reported being able to blend in more easily, but this has not necessarily translated to easier labour registration or higher wages and social benefits. In Mae Sot, Bama migrants are more easily identified as non- Thai and so report more pronounced discrimination or police harassment. Muslim migrants, particularly Rohingya, report being especially targeted in Thailand and facing greater difficulties in obtaining registration documents due to being historically denied citizenship in Myanmar. This is part of broader anti-Muslim discrimination in Thailand that also affects Malay Muslims in Thailand’s Deep South.

Three areas where Myanmar migrants in Thailand have particular difficulties in accessing employment opportunities and securing employment and other socio-economic protections relate to identity documentation and registration status, educational access (an issue that particularly affects migrant worker children) and, finally, prohibitions from certain employment categories. There is also often a gendered dynamic to migrant worker decision-making, for example relating to wage-earning potential or worker registration, that further compounds intersectional inequalities. Migrant workers can also face challenges to accessing health care and encounter obstacles in obtaining labour dispute settlements.

One significant area where migrant workers from Myanmar, as well as other countries in the region, face employment inequality in Thailand is the limitations on the category of labour they are allowed to perform, based on the designation of low-, medium- and high-skilled labour. This has significant implications for wage levels, personal safety, job security and other areas. According to an ILO study published in early 2022, the majority of migrant workers in Thailand are in medium-skilled occupations, at nearly 60 per cent, with over 38 per cent in low-skilled employment.[22] Migrant workers are largely confined to medium- and low-skilled labour as a result of national law: the most recent update took effect in early 2020 with the Notification of the Ministry of Labour, Prescription of Work Prohibited for Migrant Workers. It lists nearly 30 categories of employment migrant workers are prohibited from performing, such as stonework, goldsmithing, clerical or secretarial work, bricklaying, and some types of agriculture.

However, while in many cases migrant workers in practice perform skilled labour, they are at risk of arrest or deportation if they are caught working outside permitted job categories. In addition to their vulnerability to arrest, the lack of formal recognition for their roles also denies them other forms of protection, and wage compensation for overtime, for example. As a result of unequal access to employment, migrant workers earn on average considerably less than non-migrants. According to recent ILO statistics (for early 2022), while average monthly wages in Thailand are around THB 14,450 [US$421] for men and THB 14,660 [US$427] for women, migrant men earn around THB 9,320 [US$272] and women even less at THB 8,645 [US$252].

While these challenges remain, civil society organizations working with Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand have secured some positive changes over the last few years. For example, MAP Foundation, founded in 1996, works with ethnic minority migrant workers from Myanmar to empower them to stand up for their labour rights through training, capacity-building and advocacy. Among other activities, it has created a series of community radio and social media channels in minority languages, primarily Shan, and other education outreach activities aimed at helping migrant worker children gain access to vocational schools to break the cycle of inter-generational labour insecurity. MAP Foundation also works with migrant workers to provide labour rights training and supports migrants involved in labour disputes. Their advocacy was part of the campaigning that recently led to the Department of Employment becoming more flexible regarding the types of skilled labour that migrant workers can perform, and therefore giving access to higher earning potential.

Through its trainings, MAP Foundation has seen a number of Myanmar migrants become paralegals and migrant worker rights advocates, contributing to winning some disputes and claiming migrants’ unpaid wages, for example. Again, the rate of success and compensation varies according to the sector, and correlates to different ethnic minority communities represented by different sectors. For example, MAP has noted a higher rate of labour complaints in the garment industry because of more people being willing to file complaints in a given factory, which has helped to build momentum, while relatively fewer complaints have come from the construction industry, despite the higher rate of injury there. Agriculture has the fewest complaints of any sector, arguably because it is more remote and decentralized, while migrants working in agriculture tend to be more likely to be unregistered and therefore more vulnerable to reprisal from employers.

In March 2022, another civil society organization in Thailand working to defend migrant workers’ rights, the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), won a decisive labour rights court case for a group of undocumented Shan migrant workers. In the case, HRDF succeeded in arguing that the Employee Welfare Fund Committee of Thailand cannot use the legal status of the employee to refuse to pay out compensation under the fund. The Thai Labour Court cited domestic law and international labour standards, noting Thailand’s obligations to protect all employees without discrimination based on nationality.


While admittedly no easy task, there cannot be any significant improvement in employment and economic opportunities for minorities and indigenous peoples until structural inequalities, discrimination and impunity for violence are thoroughly addressed. The different examples discussed in this chapter demonstrate how complex and wide ranging these can be. While work reform is often focused on the immediate symptoms of employment inequalities, in many cases these are rooted in deep-seated patterns of racism, stigma and institutional discrimination.

Education is of course where the foundation is laid for future employment opportunities or the lack thereof. Ensuring access to education is vital for promoting greater employment opportunities for historically marginalized communities. The inability of many minority and indigenous children to access schooling has life-long implications for their work prospects. In light of the interconnectedness between the right to employment and the promotion and protection of other human rights, especially the right to education, cultural and scientific development, and others, addressing employment and economic inequality for minorities and indigenous peoples also means combating inter-generational inequalities.

The need for a transformative educational agenda is not only evident among school-age community members but also among those who themselves missed out on the opportunity of an education. Inclusive adult learning opportunities, particularly tailored around the potential for training and upskilling to access opportunities in new and emerging sectors, are vital in this regard. This is especially evident in the use of information and communication technologies, for instance: minorities and indigenous peoples are typically most disadvantaged by the digital divide and over-represented within employment sectors at risk of loss of jobs due to automation. Innovative policies are therefore required to ensure that minorities and indigenous peoples are not left behind in the future of digital economies.

As illustrated by the plight of migrant workers and other groups with secondary social status, such as former slaves and their descendants, recognition is key. Because minorities and indigenous peoples face a number of bureaucratic and administrative obstacles to economic development, serious changes need to be made to remove restrictive barriers to advancement. One of the common challenges for marginalized populations trying to move forward in education and employment relates to discriminatory interpretations of personhood by the state and the denial of citizenship and national identity documents. Immediate steps therefore need to be taken to remove barriers to citizenship and obtaining national identification.

Photo: Muslim women argue with a policewoman during a lockdown in their area after dozens of men were taken to a quarantine facility amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19, in Ahmedabad, India. 6 April 2020. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave



[1] The right is laid out in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and is considered ‘essential for realizing other human rights and forms an inseparable and inherent part of human dignity,’ as described by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 111 also calls on states to implement policies promoting employment equality to eliminate employment-related discrimination.

[2] Inclusive Australia, Measuring Social Inclusion: The Inclusive Australia Social Inclusion Index, Monash University, 2021, p.16.

[3] ILO, Implementing the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169: Towards an Inclusive, Sustainable and Just Future, Geneva, ILO, 2019, p. 84.

[4] Ibid., p. 16.

[5] IWGIA and ILO, Indigenous Peoples in a Changing World of Work: Exploring Indigenous Peoples’ Economic and Social Rights through the Indigenous Navigator 2021, 2021,—dgreports/—gender/documents/publication/ wcms_792208.pdf, p. 35.

[6] Australia Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and World Vision Australia, Connecting on Country: Closing the Digital Divide for First Nations Students in the Age of Covid-19, Edgecliff, NSW, 2021, p. 5.

[7] Good Things Australia Foundation, Digital Nation Australia 2021, Darlingurst, NSW, 2021, p. 24

[8] Royal Bank of Canada, Building Bandwidth: Preparing Indigenous Youth for a Digital Future, Toronto, 2021, p. 2.

[9] Future Skills Center, Digital Differences: The Impact of Automation on the Digital Economy in Canada, Toronto, 2020, p. 19.

[10] Monkman, L., ‘Cree video game streamers create space for Indigenous gaming community’, CBC News, 14 December 2020.

[11] Martin, D., ‘From 1000 followers to 1.3 million in a year, Twitch streamer Broxh keeps Māori practices alive’, Te Ao Māori News, 24 March 2021.

[12] Singh, P. and John, A., ‘Crime and prejudice: The BJP and Delhi’s police’s hand in the Delhi violence’, The Caravan, 1 September 2020; Pandey, A. and Tantray, S., ‘Hate speech – A Hindu rioter speaks: Delhi violence was “revenge” against Muslims, police gave free reign’, The Caravan, 31 July 2020.

[13] Tata Trusts, India Justice Report 2019: Ranking States on Police, Judiciary, Prisons and Legal Aid, New Delhi, 2019, p. 27.

[14] Gettleman, J., Yasir, S., Raj., S. and Kumar, H., ‘How Delhi’s police turned against Muslims’, The New York Times, 12 March 2020.

[15] Bhatnagar, I.S., ‘India has 10.3 per cent in police force: govt in Lok Sabha’, Hindustan Times, 15 March 2022.

[16] Tiwary, D., ‘OBCs constitute 25% of police; STs get better representation: Data’, The Indian Express, 30 December 2020.

[17] The Wire, ‘Nearly a third of India’s Adivasis fear being framed for Maoist activities’, 13 June 2018.

[18] Hasan, W., ‘Why the percentage of Muslim prisoners in India’s jails is disproportionate to their population in India’, The Wire, 15 March 2022; Tiwary, D., ‘NCRB data: Higher share of Dalits, tribals, Muslims in prison than numbers outside’, The Indian Express, 31 August 2020.

[19] Sen, J., ‘Three-quarters of death row prisoners are from lower castes or religious minorities’, The Wire, 6 May 2016

[20] UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, A/HRC/31/56, 28 January 2016, para. 91.

[21] Harkins, B. (ed.), Thailand Migration Report 2019, Bangkok, UN Thematic Group on Migration in Thailand, 2019, p. xi.

[22] ILO, Measuring Labour Migration in ASEAN, Bangkok, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 2022, p. 36.

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