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Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent

More than 260 million people across the world are discriminated on the basis of work and descent or face caste-based discrimination. These communities are among the most marginalised and excluded in terms of political, social and economic development. Across generations, these communities have faced discrimination and exclusion in every sphere of life, and this has often led to high incidence of poverty among them and precludes them from the enjoyment of their rights and entitlements as well as meaningful participation in public life. Those communities are commonly known as Quilombola in Brazil, Dalits in South Asia, Burakumin (Japan), Oru in West Africa and Roma and Sinti across continents amongst many names in different regions. The umbrella term to describe those communities is Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD).

Marginalisation, discrimination and exclusion are compounded when intersectional CDWD face multiple discrimination, not only because of work and descent, but also on the basis of their gender identity, disability, age and/or sexual orientation, homelessness, to name but a few. Any increase in poverty rates and all the associated effects such as homelessness, literacy rates and education, child mortality etc. are more likely to affect the most marginalized first and present a threat to the livelihood of all Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD).

The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to lead to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began. The virus has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities. Over two million people have died, in India alone 230 million lived in conditions of poverty during the lockdown in 2020[2]. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 or less per day) in 2020 has increased by 100 million, from roughly 650 to 750 million people, according to latest projections including in middle-income countries, and especially among women. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of social protection systems; yet 4 billion people worldwide are left without any social protection. We therefore call for all countries to ensure universal access to social protection.

While many of the richest – individuals and corporations – are thriving. Billionaire fortunes returned to their pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, while recovery for the world’s poorest people could well take over a decade. To achieve SDGs and effectuate the “Leave No One Behind” principle, governments, local authorities and decision takers must create effective initiatives - putting the most vulnerable first.

Regional perspectives

Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is estimated that the number of people who live in poverty will increase from 185.9 to 219.1 million and people living in extreme poverty will increase by 16 million.

For many countries the fiscal deficit, low production, caused by the closure of more than 2.7 million companies in Latin America alone, and the number of unemployed - which reached 44.1 million - has led to a pause in economic activity, and the limited access to concessional resources and limited credit available to address Covid-19 has aggravated the situation further, leading to a 7.7% contraction of GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean according to United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Latin America, Quilombolas represent the largest Community Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) with 16 million historically oppressed Afro-Brazilians, present in roughly one third of municipalities in Brazil. 75% of the Quilombolas live in extreme poverty, only 15 % of homes have access to the public water network and 5 % have access to regular rubbish collection, 89 % of homes burn domestic waste. Only 2 in one-thousand homes are connected to the sewage and storm water networks.

During the ongoing healthcare emergency, the extreme vulnerability this community faces became manifest when death and infection rates spiked amongst Quilombolas and Afro-Brazilians. In 46 municipalities with a large Quilombola presence, not a single doctor was available as part of the public healthcare system. In 67 municipalities only one doctor was available, and in 619 municipalities between 2 and 10 public doctors were available. In 745 municipalities with Quilombolacommunities, there is only one doctor for more than 1,000 inhabitants and among all municipalities where Quilombolas live, 89% do not have a single Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The lack of public policies and budget provisions is reflected in the number of deaths and of those who fell sick. The lack of disaggregated data invisibilises Quilombolas and is highly connected to the non-execution of budgetary resources earmarked for this population.

Besides the aforementioned institutional marginalisations and exclusions Quilombolas face, explicit threats, slander and defamation, as well as threats to family members with the intention of destabilizing the leadership and silencing the movement must be mentioned in this context too. Women are increasingly targeted; many cases are considered simple femicides without taking into account the leadership from their struggle for territory and/or defence of human rights. The invisibilization is thus compounded, by the lack of information and disaggregated data and by illicit non-state actors silencencing Quilombolas.


In Africa different types of descent-based discrimination, namely, the caste systems and intergenerational slavery in the Sahel regions, which also affects the DWD communities forced into it because of their “low social position” in society. In West Africa, countries with hierarchical caste structures include Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The practice of traditional slavery is also deeply rooted in these countries within communities such as the Tuaregs, Arabs, and Peulhs in Niger; the Haratines and the Soninké and Halpulars communities of Mauritania; and the Bellahs, Soninkes, and Dyons in Mali. The "masters" regard people born to slaves as their property and thus sometimes give them as gifts. After the death of the master, they are inherited by his children. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by their masters, and it is not uncommon for them to find themselves subjected to forced pregnancies.

COVID-19 has hit the African continent particularly hard due to its relatively high vulnerability to external shocks. The pandemic has hit hardest those who have no access to healthcare, who lack a social safety net to fall back on, are in precarious work conditions, have no access to land titles, and those with the greatest unpaid care responsibilities, in short - hitting the most vulnerable first and hardest - especially persons who are part of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) and live-in conditions of (modern) slavery.

In West Africa alone, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of people at risk of hunger and malnutrition from 17 million to 50 million in the course of 2020. Most often those of the lowest social class with least social and economic capital, especially Communities

Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) are hit by famine first and are the last ones to recover. In support of CDWD, three recommendations can be made. First, the stimulus packages announced in response to the pandemic must be targeted to those that really need it -- the most vulnerable – CDWD, small-scale farmers & workers who are the least able to cope with the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, Civil Society participation in the process must be guaranteed to ensure transparency in the response. Lasty, the role of local communities to design and implement post-crisis plans is key for a fast recovery and to guarantee that no one is left behind.


Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent in Asia, known as ‘Dalits’ are mostly engaged in the informal sector due to their social, economic and political standings. The proportion of the informal economy which employs mainly the migrant workers, is highest in South Asia standing at 77.0%. Predominantly, these migrant workers belong to Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent and there has been no effort to enforce minimum wage protection.

Lack of formal employment and occupations such as day wage labourers, menial jobs related to human sanitation and human and animal death and risky agricultural labour have become extremely precarious areas to work exercised by Dalits in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan. The lack of proper gear and sanitation facilities during the Pandemic has increased the risk of contracting COVID-19 and further spread the virus in inadequate cramped conditions of housing. What was a shift to the Home Office for the most privileged, was a loss of all income and loss of livelihoods for millions accompanied by hunger and homelessness. As constructed from ILO employment data on Informal Sector, in India the number of informal sector workers accounted highest in the region around 92% while in Bangladesh it is 87%, Nepal and Pakistan it is estimated 72% & 71.7% respectively and Sri Lanka it is accounted as 60.8%. Alone in India, the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) data shows the life expectancy of the Dalit woman is lower in comparison to other group women. Dalits women live 39.5 years whereas other group women live up to 54.1 years of life.


In Europe the coronavirus pandemic has affected the daily lives of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent, commonly known in Europe as Roma and Travellers, existing in marginalised communities and suffering from social exclusion and poverty. Roma and Travellers are amongst the most affected and impacted by Covid-19, mainly due to their devastating living conditions and exclusion, triggered by widespread antigypsyism.

During the pandemic many Roma and Travellers living in poverty found it very hard to protect themselves from contracting the virus due to lack of access to water and sanitation facilities as the case of 70 Roma families in Serbia’s capital Belgrade illustrates. During the Coronavirus pandemic, when all citizens were urged to intensify hygiene protocols to slow down the spread of the infection, those families had had no means to comply with this demand due to lack of access to most basic public services such water, electricity and organised garbage collection as they lived in segregated and informal settlements and/or improvised shelters. After unsuccessful attempts by NGOs to alleviate the situation with local authorities, the case was escalated to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court acted on this request immediately and initiated proceedings against Serbia, confirming the inadequate provisions made by the state and local authorities, causing a serious risk and degrading treatment of Roma and violation of their human rights. The case alerted local authorities and after further insistence water supply, food and hygiene packages were provided by the state government and the Red Cross.

Institutional exclusion and blatant discrimination Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent face is omnipresent and systematic. As the previous case highlights, the fight for equality for CDWD is global and transcends continental boundaries, regardless if a country or region is economically fragile or robust.


Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD), numbering more than 260 million people across the world, are among the most marginalised and excluded peoples, many of whom are persons living in conditions of slavery often tied to descent. They are more commonly known as Dalits, Roma-Sinti, Quilombola, Burakumin, Haratine, Oru, Shambara amongst many other names. They lack public recognition or acknowledgements within and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

170 million people have been infected and 3.5 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19. However, the pandemic is not a democratic disease, it affects Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) disproportionately and severely when economies and healthcare systems collapse. While the virus itself does not distinguish, the high infection and death rates among CDWD combined with the nonexistent or very low vaccination rates, is one of the most material manifestations of inequalities within and among countries today. During the pandemic, access to water, hygiene products and sanitation facilities were severely restricted. This situation escalated in South Asia during the summer months when infections peaked, Dalits were restricted from accessing public water/sanitation facilities for being considered “unclean”. Governments failed to ensure access to these facilities across the globe for CDWD.

There have been several cases of CDWD being discriminated against in cases of access to quarantine facilities, economic relief packages, and other social security measures. World over there has been a disturbing spike in cases of domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. CDWD women who are at the intersections of caste, class and gender have been affected by this as well. There has been a marked increase in cases of caste-based violence against women.

The effects of the Pandemic and the resultant fallout and change in circumstances of people has had a severe consequence on the mental health of community members. Unemployment, inability to provide for the family, increased cases of discrimination and violence have resulted in an increase in cases of suicides.

Governments in many countries are unable to adequately support the most vulnerable people since over US$300 billion is being spent annually by the Global South for Public External Debt payments to bilateral and multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and IMF, private banks, speculators, and investors in government bonds and securities. The debt problem is compounded by illicit financial flows, also in the billions of dollars.

The crisis has exposed our collective frailty and the inability of our deeply unequal economy to work for all. Yet it has also shown us the vital importance of government action to protect our health and livelihoods. Transformative policies that seemed unthinkable before the crisis have suddenly been shown to be possible. There can be no return to where we were before. Instead, citizens and governments must act on the urgency to create a more equal and sustainable world.


1. Implement country and community specific interventions to provide the most immediate needs of the most vulnerable such as healthcare (including mental healthcare), water and sanitation, food, education and help and shelter for those who suffer domestic violence and abuse, with special focus on communities affected traditional/modern forms of slavery, Roma, Sinti communities in Europe and Dalits in Asia. Creating a People's Vaccine putting the most vulnerable first. In line with UN Secretary-General António Guterres comments “a covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people's vaccine’.

2. Creation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) that enable a fair chance of recovery for emerging economies and to provide liquidity for the most immediate needs of the most vulnerable, including Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD), and emerging economies in general. Richer nations will also be allocated SDRs, however, in light of the growing inequalities and gap between the Global North and Global South, the global north should allocate its SDRs to emerging economies to provide a fair chance of recovery to all and to achieve the SDGs.

3. Accountability, transparency and review framework for the Sustainable Development Goals must be a multi-stakeholder process including NGOs as defined by resolution 67/290 should be ensured. Consultations with CDWD communities should take place at all levels, including representation of the most marginalized voices and clear disaggregated data to monitor progress.

4. To achieve conditions of decent work and alleviate some of the negative effects of the pandemic, land tenure and ownership has been named as a vital condition for Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD). In Brazil, the Sahel and large parts of South Asia, land rights and land tenure and ownership remain a central demand for many Communities Discriminated on Work and descent and represents a multitude of possible consequences such as food security and economic opportunity, reduction of conditions of poverty and homelessness etc.

United Nations