Joint statement on human rights commitments in the upcoming EU-India Free Trade and Investment Agreements

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April 12, 2023

In June 2022, the European Union and India resumed negotiations for “balanced, ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial” trade and investment agreements. The negotiations on trade are expected to be some of the first ones in which the EU applies its new standards on human rights and sustainability. All of the recent EU’s trade agreements generally include a “trade and sustainable development” (TSD) chapter, but these have only included non-committal, non-binding and non-enforceable provisions in promotion of sustainable development. In June 2022, the EU announced new, more ambitious standards for TSD chapters, which include trade sanctions for breaches of core TSD provisions, and elevate human rights conventions to essential clauses, but do not include specific mention of civil and political rights. According to the European Commission, these new standards will “be applied to future negotiations and to ongoing negotiations as appropriate”. The FTA between the EU and India currently under negotiation was launched in the same month as the new TSD standards, and must therefore seek to include these, if not more ambitious commitments.

At this critical juncture in time, we the undersigned urge the EU and India to put strong TSD commitments, on both social and economic as well as on civil and political human rights, explicitly at the core of the negotiations for the trade and investment agreements.

In the context of the extreme inequality in Indian society, the trade and investment agreements without strong commitments to decrease this inequality will lead to further marginalisation of informal labourers, internal migrants, Dalits (former “untouchables”), Adivasis (indigenous people), and women. Additionally, there are very serious concerns about shrinking civic spaces and systematic persecution of civil society actors, human rights defenders, journalists and academics in India through counter-terror legislation. Malicious use of the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act has significantly impaired the ability of civil society to work, and Amnesty India was forced to suspend its operations in India in 2020. Between 2010 and 2020, 154 journalists were arrested, detained, interrogated, or harassed for their work, and over 40% of incidents took place in 2020 itself. The government has imposed travel bans on at least 22 journalists. We urge the negotiators to seriously recognise that as these foundational human rights continue to be violated, any concessions made on human rights and their implementation during the negotiations will have detrimental consequences in India, the EU and globally.

Within a geopolitical landscape in which the EU sees India as an indispensable partner, we have serious concerns that the agreement will be concluded at any cost. Attacks on civic space and on freedom of press and opinion, and other gross assaults on human rights have already been systematically side-lined in the wider EU-India relationship. The European Commission has not meaningfully condemned nor publicly expressed concern about human rights violations in India, which sends a harrowing message and provides a cloak of impunity. This silence on human rights is indicative not only of apathy towards human rights in India, but also a sign of the rule of law crisis that the EU is currently undergoing. 

Generally, the EU and India shy away from meaningful commitment to human rights. Although the EU’s model TSD chapter has been commended for being more ambitious, the EU refrained from giving explicit mention to civil and political rights. Similarly, we are dismayed that India reportedly has significant objections to enshrining any commitment to human rights in a TSD chapter. This is especially concerning as India played an essential role in framing a strong Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

We are alarmed that the push for stronger trade relations between the two actors appears to have taken precedence over urgent action on and a proper examination of the implications of systematic assaults on human rights. In fact, the EU and India have expressed their intention to conclude the negotiations before their respective elections in 2024. In such a short time frame, meaningful engagement with relevant stakeholders is rendered impossible. As the EU seeks to diversify its supply chains, build alliances among countries bordering China, and deepen ties with India to decrease support for Russia, there are concerns that the EU and India will agree on unambitious TSD standards for the sake of concluding an agreement. Such a move would seriously jeopardise human rights across the world, as it would send a signal that the EU is willing to apply different benchmarks for different countries, and that the EU is willing to side step legally binding human rights for short-sighted geopolitical gains. 

It is imperative that the EU-India FTA includes and adheres to the highest of commitments to human rights. After all, the strategic partnership between the EU and India, and therefore also its trade relations, are based on common “values of democracy, rule of law and human rights”. This means that urgent action is needed to safeguard these values, especially as the European Parliament Recommendation (2021/2023(INI)) has drawn the Commission’s attention towards the crumbling rule of law and human rights situation in India, and recommended the Commission act on these concerns by “integrat[ing] human rights considerations across the wider EU-India partnership”. Indeed, the EU’s founding treaty, Article 3(5) TEU, reads that in “its relations with the wider world, the Union shall […] contribute to […] the protection of human rights”, and Article 21(1) TEU adds that the EU’s “action on the international scene shall be guided by […] democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity”. 

A strong commitment to human rights are foundational – they are the basis of the EU’s foreign policy and the EU-India relationship, and therefore cannot be subject to compromise. 

We the undersigned therefore strongly urge the EU and India to recognise and incorporate this foundational commitment in their trade and investment negotiations, and to recognise that the agreements can only truly benefit all if securing human rights forms the overarching objective of the negotiations. Therefore:

  1. The EU and India must put strong commitments on TSD and all human rights at the core of their negotiations of both the trade and investment agreement.
  2. The EU negotiators must seriously recognise that any concessions made on human rights during the negotiations will undermine the realisation of human rights in India, the EU and worldwide.


  • Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA)
  • Fair Trade Advocacy Office
  • Gerard Oonk, human rights activist
  • Hindus for Human Rights 
  • India Civil Watch International 
  • India Labour Solidarity
  • India Solidarity Germany
  • Indian American Muslim Council
  • Stichting The London Story
  • The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)
  • The Humanism Project