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September 27, 2007

India: Warrant of arrest for Dutch labour rights activists

A judge in Bangalore has ordered the apprehension of seven staff members of the Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee of the Netherlands. The juridical pronouncement is but the next step in the libel law suit initiated by the India jeans manufacturer FFI against the activists and internet providers Antenna and Xs4all. The company’s lawyer asked the court to make sure that the accused, who are represented by legal counsel, will be present in person when the case is being tried in Bangalore.

The Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee of the Netherlands are campaigning to raise the issue of labour rights violations in the FFI factories. The campaign was started after in 2005 local organisations reported high work pressure, forced overtime, physical and psychological abuse, overwork without pay and failure to provide contracts. FFI produces jeans for G-Star, Armani, RaRe, Guess, GAP, Mexx and others.

Although after publication of the violations some of the problems were addressed, FFI management, in reaction to the campaign, first gagged the India organisations via the court, and now accuses the Dutch organisations of cybercrime, racist and xenophobic activities, and slander.

Christa de Bruin of the Clean Clothes Campaign: ‘We are convinced that this case lacks all legal grounds; it is meant only to overload our organisation and is intended to discredit us.’

The arrest warrants now issued are not the first questionable FFI move in fighting its critics. In July 2006 FFI lodged a complaint, and local labour rights organisations were legally banned from public speaking about labour conditions at FFI.

Esther de Haan of the International Secretariat of the Clean Clothes Campaign: ‘Arbitrarily dragging organisations that report on labour conditions into court in no way contributes to a sustainable solution for the problems in the garment industry.’

Dutch clothing brand G-Star, the largest buyer at FFI and a key player in the dispute, refuses to put pressure on its supplier to halt the legal proceedings.

In parliament yesterday, the Socialist Party of the Netherlands asked the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice and the Secretary of Economic Affairs how the Dutch government can provide support to Dutch organisations subjected to legal intimidation and summoned to appear in court in India. The Socialist Party also asked whether the government will raise the issue with the counterparts in India, and what would be the consequences of a negative judgement by the Indian judge for Dutch CSR policy, the basis of which is independent inquiry and dialogue.

Gerard Oonk, director of the India Committee of the Netherlands ‘The Dutch government should take action immediately, to protect the freedom of speech of Dutch organisations and to warn the India government that all this can be very damaging for Netherland–India relations.’

The Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee of the Netherlands will lodge an appeal against the warrants.

For more information:

The Clean Clothes Campaign is an international network of trade unions and NGOs that aims to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.

The India Committee of the Netherlands labours on behalf of the underprivileged in India. It does so via campaigns, information and investigation.