Trade union leaders are backing millions of Indian workers calling on Britain to suspend trade deal talks.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, warned UK markets could be open to goods made using child labour and modern slavery in a “race to the bottom”.
A deal with the south Asian nation is one of the most coveted goals of post-Brexit trade policy, after hopes of a similar agreement with the US came to nothing but the TUC raised concerns over “widespread” use of forced labour. Indian unions claim working conditions in the country may even deteriorate further.
The unions said in a joint statement: “Low pay and exploitative conditions are widespread in India, with forced and child labour found in a number of industries including textiles, silk, brick manufacturing, shipbreaking, embroidery, hospitality and tobacco.”
According to India’s 2011 census, the number of child labourers was put at 10.1million.
Leaders representing 47 million Indian workers are now urging the UK to suspend negotiations with Narendra Modi’s government until it respects basic international labour standards.
Liz Truss was due to conclude talks next week but her resignation on Thursday delayed that goal.
Ms O’Grady said the UK should be “using its leverage on the global stage” and urged ministers to listen to trade unions in both countries to stop serious rights abuses.
She said: “A UK-India trade deal could encourage companies to outsource more jobs from the UK to India, leading to a race to the bottom.
“And such a deal could deepen gender inequalities and threaten food security in India by encouraging cheap imports.”
Shoya Yoshida, of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, added: “Instead of paving a new path of development, it may further deteriorate the condition of workers in India.
“Respecting trade union and human rights should be a prerequisite in signing trade agreements.”
A Department for International Trade spokesman said the government did not comment on live trade negotiations, but added: “We maintain a high level of protection of our labour standards and will not compromise them in any of our trade agreements.
“The UK continues to advocate for the highest labour standards and working conditions globally, including working to eradicate modern slavery in global supply chains.”