International Arrest Warrants for labour activists NGOs in India

Amsterdam, December 3 2007 - An Indian magistrate Court ruled on Saturday that international warrants will be issued for the arrest of Dutch human rights activists, report the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands, two of the organizations whose staff are being charged in connection with their efforts to raise awareness of rights violations at an Indian factory supplying Dutch jeans company G-Star. On the 4th of December, the court will send the case to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, asking it to execute the arrest warrants and request extradition of the 8 Dutch nationals.

"Our ’crime’ is to have published workers testimonies on our websites, information which is publicly accessible in India, and to have shared this information with brands and the media," said Ineke Zeldenrust from CCC. "If the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs decides to extradite us to personally stand trial, it will have serious consequences for all human rights and corporate accountability organisations". Criminalizing free speech obviously sets a negative precedent that has an impact on all levels of society, but the international trade and business community should specifically take notice of this case as it makes the credible implementation of corporate social responsibility policies in India impossible.

Indian jeans producer Fibres and Fabrics International (FFI) and its subsidiary Jeans Knits Pvt. Ltd have been pursuing legal action against Indian and international civil society groups, including the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), in an attempt to restrict fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association. Local organisations are under a gag order, preventing them from supporting the workers for almost one and a half years now. Their case won’t be heard in court until April, 2008. FFI’s owner has also filed suit against internet service provider Antenna, whose director is among the 8 Dutch nationals faced with an arrest warrant, and CCC’s adsl provider Xs4all. Clearly, FFI is interested only in silencing its critics, and is trying to scare civil society as well as internet companies with slapsuits. CCC, ICN and Antenna will appeal the decision in the High Court tomorrow.

At the heart of the issue is CCC and ICN’s publication of information on workers’ reports of rights violations at FFI. The case obtained a high-level political profile when India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Kamal Nath, brought it up with the Dutch government during the Dutch royal visit to India on October 28th. Nath claimed that public criticism of labour conditions is akin to putting up ’technical barriers to trade’. See:

"Today’s ruling flies in the face of India’s obligations to uphold freedom of speech," said Gerard Oonk, of the India Committee of the Netherlands. "We call upon the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs to stop this case from going any further, and upon the Dutch government and the European Union to protect human rights activists, and to take this matter up directly with India at the highest political level".

After nearly two years of trying to reach an agreement in the case, the only remaining client of FFI is Dutch company G-star. The company has been asked to make future orders conditional on a mediated dialogue between FFI and local labour groups, and the withdrawal of all court cases. While publicly claiming to agree with FFI’s critics, G-star refuses to take action, stating that it is in the best interest of the workers to continue business as usual.

"We believe G-star is violating the international standard on freedom of association, as well as its own code of conduct, and should make sure workers have decent jobs" says Arno Dahlmans from the Dutch trade union federation FNV, who represented the European and International Textile and Garment Workers Federations in a recent attempt to reach a solution. "At this point in time G-star should walk the talk, and make it clear to FFI that they will place their future orders with a supplier in Bangalore who is willing to respect freedom of association".

Contact: Ineke Zeldenrust, CCC, Tel. +31-20-412 27 85, +31-6-51280210, Gerard Oonk, ICN Tel. +31-30-23 21 340, +31-6-51015260, Esther de Haan, CCC, Tel. +31-20-412 27 85, +31-6-422 43 153, 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.

Notes to editor:

In October Amnesty International (AI) voiced concern over the harassment of defenders of women workers’ rights (read AI’s full statement at and called upon the Indian government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has also condemned what they deem government support for an employer cover-up or worker rights abuses. "All these people have done is to try to tell the truth about severe exploitation of the FFI workers," said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, in a Nov.9th statement. Referring to the lawsuit against CCC and ICN, he noted "actions of this kind can only hurt India’s reputation as a country with which global companies can do business in confidence, and we urge them to put a stop to this unacceptable attack on freedom of speech and fundamental workers’ rights."

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