Caste system discrimination outlawed by Apple, but not by US law

A report today says that Apple is ahead of most large companies in tackling a form of discrimination which originates in India but has affected employee recruitment in Silicon Valley: the caste system.

Although the caste system is in part reflected in attitudes to skin color, discrimination on the basis of caste is not made explicitly illegal by current US law…

The caste system

While we’d normally open a piece like this with a succinct definition, that is virtually impossible in this case.

India’s caste system dates back to around 1500 BCE, and academics have had lengthy and unresolved arguments as to its exact origins and classifications. Indeed, in 1932 GS Ghurye – widely considered a founding figure in Indian sociology – said that caste was too complex to define.

We do not possess a real general definition of caste. It appears to me that any attempt at definition is bound to fail because of the complexity of the phenomenon.

However, there are at least connections between caste and skin tone.

Although in theory a dalits color is not associated with caste, it can be said that due to the types of labor dalits are usually found working in, they are often identified as darker as or “dirtier” than those of different castes because they are more frequently exposed to the sun. In a country obsessed with light skin tone, it is often suggested that the caste system has affected the ways in which Indians view darker skin, with a stigma of dark skin attached to the lower castes.

Apple explicitly bans discrimination by caste

Today, India is said to be the top source of skilled foreign workers in the US tech sector, and a Reuters report says that Apple got ahead of its rivals by implementing a specific policy on caste.

America’s tech giants are taking a modern-day crash course in India’s ancient caste system, with Apple emerging as an early leader in policies to rid Silicon Valley of a rigid hierarchy that’s segregated Indians for generations.

Apple, the world’s largest listed company, updated its general employee conduct policy about two years ago to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste, which it added alongside existing categories such as race, religion, gender, age and ancestry.

The inclusion of the new category, which has not been previously reported, goes beyond US discrimination laws, which do not explicitly ban casteism.

Apple reportedly introduced the policy after a claim of caste-based discrimination at Cisco.

California’s employment regulator sued Cisco Systems on behalf of a low-caste engineer who accused two higher-caste bosses of blocking his career.

Cisco denied that there was evidence of discrimination, but also argued that there was no case to answer as caste is not a legally protected class in California. Essentially the company was saying that it would have the legal right to discriminate on the basis of caste should it so desire; that case is still awaiting a court hearing.

While many tech companies are said to be unsure of how to address the issue, Apple tackled it head-on.

Apple’s main internal policy on workplace conduct, which was seen by Reuters, added references to caste in the equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment sections after September 2020.

Apple confirmed that it “updated language a couple of years ago to reinforce that we prohibit discrimination or harassment based on caste.” It added that training provided to staff also explicitly mentions caste.

“Our teams assess our policies, training, processes and resources on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are comprehensive,” it said. “We have a diverse and global team, and are proud that our policies and actions reflect that.”

IBM does the same, but policies reviewed by Reuters showed that many tech giants do not specifically prohibit caste-based discrimination outside of India (where it is illegal), including Amazon, Dell, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. All said that this would fall under their existing discrimination bans.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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