A court in Bangalore has issued an order for the 'arrest without the possibility of bail' of seven campaigners over their websites postings about labour conditions of an Indian supplier of fashion label G-Star. The activists are from the Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee of the Netherlands; the director of their Netherlands based ISP, Antenna, is included.
The case could have implications for activists posting anything on the web, with the court using the Convention on Cyber Crime to call for extradition. It all happens with the backdrop of the continuing campaign about labour conditions and particularly the huge number of child workers in India coming up against the religion of 'free trade'.
The case has been running for some time now. As the legal threats get worse the campaign are asking for solidarity. As G-Star is the only remaining buyer from the jeans manufacturer at which the CCC and ICN have highlighted the labour rights violations they are asking people to make demands of them listing things you can do [cleanclothes.org]. In the UK No Sweat! have called a picket of G-star [nosweat.org] focusing on their Covent Garden store. There are lots of outlets around on their store locator [g-star.com].
Clean Clothes activists protest for Freedom to promote workers rights
In 2006 the CCC and ICN launched a campaign to draw attention to severe labour rights violations at Indian jeans manufacturer Fibres and Fabrics International and its subsidiary Jeans Knit Pvt Ltd (FFI/JKPL). The campaign highlighted the workers own words. At the time FFI/JKPL were producing jeans for companies including G-Star, Armani, RaRe, Guess, Gap and Mexx and had a gagging order of local labour rights organizations that were informed about labour rights violations at the factory by workers in 2005. To date FFI/JKPL has refused to engage with the local labour groups to resolve the outstanding labour issues. For doing so while there was a gagging order the activists were accused of 'cyber crime', 'acts of racist and xenophobic nature' and 'criminal defamation' by the Indian jeans manufacturer Fibres and Fabrics International and its subsidiary Jeans Knit Pvt Ltd (FFI/JKPL). News 07 Sep 07 [cleanclothes.org]
As they did not travel to India in person for the first hearing of the case (no doubt to be kept in the country while the trial proceeded, something that could take years) the court ruled on Saturday that international warrants will be issued for their arrest.News 03 Dec 07 [cleanclothes.org]
The potential restriction on free speech could have immense implications for all activists. Extradition is requested using the Convention on Cyber Crime, and its Additional Protocol.
The Original court order of June 14th 2007 [cleanclothes.org][pdf] referred to:
'The continuous publication and hosting of the false defamatory material on the website amounts to cyber crime and a cyberspace libel...' 'the representation of their alleged theories and ideas advocates and promotes hatred, discrimination and violence against the complainant and the country based on national origin thus being xenophobic in nature...' 'publish material to insult the country and the complainant publicly through a computer system on grounds of national origin...' 'All the accused... commission of the cyber crime of publication of xenophobic material'.
This according to the Indian court makes potentially 'criminal defamation' of telling Indian workers own stories from interviews [schonekleren.nl][pdf] and publicising the results of a fact finding mission extraditable under the Additional Protocol.
In 2001 when the Council of Europe drew up the Convention they explicitly left out integration with the European Convention on Human Rights. At the time activists were highlighting it could be used to restrict freedom of speech, now it seems they may have been right. Two years later as the Council drafted the Additional Protocol to target racism and xenophobia on the internet again they seemed to ignore differences of freedom of expression that exist around the world.
There is a handbook on the Convention on Cyber Crime for activists [cyber-rights.org][pdf]
The escalation of this case times itself with the growing push by Indian Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, to increase foreign trade and stop international campaigns particularly about child labour in India. Nath has been removing restrictions on trade, and claims that governments supporting NGOs that are campaigning about working conditions in his country are 'disguised protectionism' [depers.nl][dutch]
Who knows maybe the tactics are working? On Friday 30th November, the EU and India released their Joint Statement of the 8th India-EU Summit [ue2007.pt]. It spends much time praising growth in 'multilateral trade', and while mentioning efforts on climate change they are also 'recognising the importance of strengthening transportation links ... the growing importance of India-EU civil aviation'. There is no explicit mention ofworking conditions and child labour, just that they have a 'strengthening of the EU-India dialogue and cooperation on employment and social policy on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding' with its visits and seminars.
India's government, its manufacturers, and the companies they supply are however under immense pressure from non-governmental and grassroots groups about the use of child labour. The country has some of the highest number of children under 15 working, sometimes in terrible conditions. The most recent case to highlight this was the Observer's exposure of a factory producing for GAP kids [guardian.co.uk], 'child workers as young as 10 found working in conditions close to slavery... the children described long hours of unwaged work, as well as threats and beatings.' GAP has no long the target of campaigns about sweatshops and labour, so this time GAP moved quickly at this exposure.
This is not the first time Kamal Nath has played the free trade card to try and remove some external pressure on standards within the country. In 1994 as Minister for the Environment he pushed for the de-linking of environmental standards from trade [22.214.171.124][rtf]. Also while he was Environment minister a commercial venture of his damaged the environment [wikipedia.org] so much so he was later fined Rs 1.000.000 by the High Court
Clean Clothes Campaign in the UK newswire
Recent coverage on Indymedia NL [Dutch]
G-star have announce they have their final order with FFI. They said that the bad publicity surrounding the company was the reason. The international arrest warrants have still not been lifted, and G-star is still not clearly accepting responsibility towards creating pressure on FFI for the future livelihood of the workers in the factory in India or the accused campaigners. Report: G-Star on their knees.
FFI case, CCC never accused FFI of child labour, but it has been mixed up
in the media, in the media it has been said that CCC accused FFI of child
labour which is not true, so I would prefer if you can keep these two
different discussions apart,
"In our court case the cyber crime convention is not used,
although we are accused of racism, xenophobia, cyber crime, slander, we are
summoned for defamation only (Indian Penal code); the cyber crime
convention does not hold because India didn't sign this convention
"I would like to add that thus far the court didn't look at this case on
content (whether it is slander yes or no), it is only procedural,
according the Indian penal code you have to be appear in person in court
which we didn't (on advice)"
Clean Clothes Campaign (repost)