What We Do

A New Paradigm for Supporting Migrant Workers

Despite their critical contributions to India’s growth story, migrant workers continue to face marginalization, low wages, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of legal protections and social services.

With informal workers constituting up to 92 percent of the workforce in India (NCEUS 2004), seasonal migration has emerged as a dominant mode of labour employment in the informal sector. Workers migrate, at times with their entire families, from relatively underdeveloped regions to developed areas for short-term employment, constituting what has been termed by noted researcher Jan Bremen as ‘footloose labour’ (1996). Seasonal migrant workers often dominate low-paying, hazardous jobs and lack the protections afforded to more permanent workers. Their contributions are undervalued, and they face discrimination based on caste, class, and gender. Dalit and Adivasi workers are disproportionately at risk of forced labour and child labour, while women workers face wage inequality, unsafe working conditions, and the additional burden of unpaid care work. Informal migrant workers frequently lack access to healthcare, education, and social security. Legal protections are inadequate, and many disputes involving migrant workers never reach labour courts due to the informal nature of their employment and the lack of documentation. This precarious situation is exacerbated by the absence of reliable official data on seasonal labour migration. Consequently, policies often fail to address the needs of these workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and devoid of basic rights. Traditional trade unions have largely failed to organize these workers due to the dispersed nature of their work and their seasonal employment patterns. The COVID-19 pandemic starkly exposed their plight, underscoring the urgent need for systemic reform.

Our Strategy

Building on its deep understanding of the complex challenges faced by migrant workers in India, CLRA has evolved a novel intervention framework that has helped the organization make significant gains over the past decade. This approach focuses on the entire migration cycle, addressing the needs of workers at both their source and destination locations. CLRA’s strategy is rooted in understanding the socioeconomic conditions and systemic issues that perpetuate labour exploitation, and also accounts for the constant movement of the workers along identified migration streams, the critical role played by labour contractors, and the nature of production and labour processes involved. Briefly, CLRA’s framework rests on the following four pillars:

Building Worker Power

Empowerment of workers and their organizations is the core of CLRA’s work. Workers’ organizations are crucial in advocating for workers’ rights and improving working conditions. CLRA facilitates the organization of migrant and informal workers into strong, self-sustaining collectives, fosters worker leaders, and provides training to educate workers about their rights and entitlements. It adopts a nuanced approach that acknowledges the significant role of labour contractors in organizing workers. By building a unified front, it helps workers negotiate better wages and work conditions, and address systemic exploitation.

Research and Advocacy

CLRA conducts in-depth research to examine the socioeconomic conditions and systemic challenges faced by migrant workers. This research informs all aspects of CLRA’s work, ensuring that interventions are evidence-based and effectively address the real issues faced by workers. This includes mapping migration streams, studying labour processes, and evaluating policy impacts. Evidence generation informs CLRA’s strategic planning and advocacy efforts. Leveraging its research, CLRA advocates for systemic changes that address the root causes of worker exploitation. Through sustained policy advocacy, CLRA seeks to influence labour laws and policies to better reflect the needs and rights of migrant workers.

Comprehensive Support Services

Since 2010, CLRA has provided migrant workers legal representation and support to combat bondage, wage theft, violence, and discrimination. By offering legal aid, CLRA ensures that workers have access to justice and their fundamental human rights are protected. CLRA’s legal interventions have helped rescue bonded labourers and secure unpaid wages, providing critical relief to exploited workers. The organization also facilitates access to essential public services, including education, healthcare, and social security. CLRA advocates for the portability of entitlements, ensuring continuous access to services regardless of workers’ locations. This ensures migrant families can access services at both their source and destination, reducing the disruption caused by migration.


CLRA recognizes fully well that it is not possible for a single organization to bring about change. CLRA regularly collaborates with government agencies, NGOs, workers’ organizations and other stakeholders to push for meaningful legal and policy reform. It has played a leading role in the formation of West India Majdur Adhikar Manch, a network of grass root organizations working with tribal migrant workers in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

Sectoral Focus

Since 2010, CLRA has worked across states and sectors to protect and promote workers’ rights. The major industries where CLRA has focused its interventions include agriculture (including sugarcane harvesting, cotton cultivation, and cottonseed harvesting), brick production, construction, and cotton textiles. CLRA has focused its interventions on. In 2023, the organization decided to commence a long-term research and mobilization engagement with waste management & sanitation workers in Gujarat. In recent years, CLRA has also investigated industries like mining, leather, and diamond processing, among others.

A Bitter Struggle: Migrant Sugarcane Harvesters’ Movement for Justice and Fair Wages


Sugarcane harvesting workers in South Gujarat and Western Maharashtra represent one of the most marginalized and exploited segments of the agricultural labour force. These workers are primarily seasonal migrants from Marathwada in Maharashtra and tribal districts in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. Despite the abundance of local agricultural labour, the preference for migrant workers stems from their pliability and the economic advantage they present to the sugar mills.

Bhagiya workers in Gujarat are seasonal migrant agricultural labourers, primarily hailing from tribal regions in Western India, specifically the Bhil tribal belt encompassing the border areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. These workers migrate to Gujarat’s northern and Saurashtra-Kutch regions during agricultural seasons, entering verbal agreements known as “bhag-kheti” with large landholders. Typically, entire families migrate, with both husbands and wives working in the fields, while older children assist with household chores and younger siblings. However, the migrant status of these workers often leads to their marginalization, with limited access to education and other social services.

The Halpati community, based in South Gujarat, comprises landless agricultural labourers who have historically been subjected to severe socio-economic exploitation and marginalization. Engaged in various agricultural activities, such as ploughing, sowing, weeding, and harvesting, Halpatis often work under harsh conditions with minimal pay. The traditional Hali system, a form of bonded labour, ties entire families to landowning families, perpetuating generational servitude.

Brick Kilns

The brick kiln industry is highly susceptible to forced and bonded labour due to exploitative recruitment practices, substantial advances or loans to secure workers, and piece-rate wage systems that compensate entire families collectively rather than individually. A majority of brick workers – largely marginal landholders and landless agricultural labourers – are brought to the kilns via unregistered contractors (thekedaar): middlemen through whom the kiln owners pay the workers an advance in cash (peshagi), binding them to the kilns for the entire season. This form of debt bondage – exacerbated by the non-implementation of labour laws – together with low wages, prolonged working hours, and poor living conditions, makes brick kiln workers one of the most exploited sections of India’s labour force. Child labour is prevalent, with children assisting in tasks such as mixing mud, stacking bricks, and transporting materials.


Gujarat’s construction sector relies heavily on migrant workers, who have played an essential role in the state’s development. These workers predominantly hail from neighboring states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, with their migration often facilitated by labour contractors who recruit them from their home states and provide the linkage between the source and the destination of migration. However, these workers face numerous challenges, including poor living and working conditions, limited access to social security and public services, and lack of collective bargaining power. The workers’ dependence on their employers or labour contractors for housing and daily needs exacerbates their vulnerability.

Waste Management

Informal waste management workers in Gujarat, primarily migrant tribal families from regions like Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Dahod in Gujarat, face severe economic and social vulnerabilities. Engaged in door-to-door waste collection in cities such as Ahmedabad and Surat, these workers endure long hours, inadequate protective gear, and low, irregular wages under informal contracts. They often reside in informal settlements with inadequate infrastructure, increasing their exposure to environmental hazards. The caste and tribal identities of these workers add layers of discrimination and marginalization, affecting their access to public services and legal protections. Women workers, who constitute a significant portion, juggle unpaid domestic and care work along with hazardous waste sorting, often without childcare support.


Migrant workers form the backbone of the cotton supply chain in India, enduring challenging conditions at each step. These workers, primarily from underdeveloped regions of Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha, migrate to more prosperous cotton-producing states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. In cottonseed harvesting, children and adults work long hours under hazardous conditions with significant exposure to pesticides. During cotton cultivation, workers perform strenuous tasks such as planting, tending, and picking, often for wages as low as INR 120-150 per day, depending on age and gender. The ginning process, which predominantly occurs in Gujarat, employs around 80,000-90,000 workers, including many seasonal migrants from Rajasthan and Bihar. Ginning mill workers face severe health risks, including dust and noise pollution, and frequently suffer from wage theft and unsafe working environments.

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