October 26, 2007
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and
India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) falsely accused
by Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath
During a state visit of the Dutch Queen and several ministers and companies, the Indian Minister of Economic affairs, Shri Kamal Nath, confronted the delegation with misleading information on the work of the Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee of the Netherlands, in relation to the factory FFI in Bangalore.
CCC and ICN forcefully deny that their information about labour rights violations at the Indian jeans factory FFI is false, as the Indian Minister for Economic Affairs yesterday claimed while talking to the Dutch governmental delegation. The Dutch delegation, including the Dutch Queen, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs and the employers’ and business organisation as well as several companies are in India for a state visit.
FFI, which produces jeans mainly for the Dutch brand G-Star, refuses to enter into any form of dialogue with unions and human rights organisations in Bangalore - who were the first to report about the labour law violations (end of 2005, beginning of 2006). Instead, FFI has been systematically trying, via legal action, to prevent these organisations from publicly reporting about what is going on in their factories.
The local Indian court banned local organisations from speaking about FFI in July 2006, without having heard the case by putting a gag order on these organisations. It is unclear when the case will be fully tried by the court.
The CCC has taken up this case with the garment companies that source from FFI. A complaint about the case was also filed with the Dutch Government’s National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The direct result of the gag order is that unions cannot operate freely anymore, and that companies cannot implement a credible corporate social responsibility policy. Both CCC and ICN have reported about this on their websites.
FFI has subsequently reacted to this by filing a court case against the CCC, ICN, Xs4ALL and Antenna, charging them with cyber crime, defamation, racism and xenophobia. The court has refused to accept that the CCC and ICN want to defend themselves via lawyer, and has issued an arrest warrant against all organisations and seven individual people. On November 20th, CCC and ICN expect a decision whether or not the Indian arrest warrant will become internationally valid.
In the meantime Amnesty International has objected to this legal action, and has publicly voiced their concerns about the “continued harassment of defenders of women workers’ rights and campaigners abroad”, and has condemned the “the filing of apparently false criminal charges against them, aimed at curbing their freedom of expression”.
“We are shocked that the delegation has obviously let itself be taken by surprise, and did not themselves raise concerns about the consequences of FFI’s legal actions against Indian and Dutch human rights organisations for the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. This has serious consequences for Dutch policy making on corporate social responsibility”, says Christa de Bruin of the CCC.
For months the organisations have been conferring with various Dutch Ministries about the legal complaints of criminal defamation, racism and cyber crime that were filed by FFI against the CCC, ICN and internet provider Antenna and adsl supplier Xs4ALL. The organisations have always insisted on a pro-active role of the Dutch government in this matter. On September 26th, Dutch political party SP raised questions about this case in the Dutch Parliament. Although requested, no response to these questions was provided before the state visit.
Statements in the press, especially those of Dutch employers’ and business organisation VNO-NCW president Wientjes, who spoke about manipulated photo coverage of FFI, have resulted in an incorrect understanding of the case. It is particularly detrimental that with his comments Wientjes appears to support the allegations that the Indian Minister for Economic Affairs has lodged with the Dutch delegation about the activities of CCC and ICN.
To be perfectly clear: CCC and ICN have never claimed that there is child labour at FFI. Violations of other labour rights were indeed brought up, which were investigated by a team of Indian labour law experts. In the two years during which this case has been ongoing our reporting was never proven to be factually incorrect, not by FFI nor by a court of law.
CCC and ICN call upon the Dutch government to immediately engage in a serious dialogue with their Indian counterparts, which should revolve around the right to freedom of speech for Dutch and Indian organisations and the right to freedom of association. The Dutch government should also urge the Indian government to refrain from requesting the international extradition of the board members of the two organisations, the service provider and adsl supplier and other individuals named in the FFI lawsuit.
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.