Update FFI: Garment factory continues to sue its critics
Friday, 28 September 2007 00:34

Clean Clothes Campaign and India Committee of the Netherlands summoned to appear in court

CCC and ICN campaigners face two years imprisonment if found guilty under Indian penal code of "cyber crime", "acts of racist and xenophobic nature", and "criminal defamation" for speaking out on labour rights violations at an Indian garment producer. The organisations and seven of its staff members were first summoned to appear in court on 25 June 2007. The City Court of Bangalore has issued an arrest warrant in order to ensure the defendants presence at the next hearing. This legal action follows a series of legal threats and actions by jeans producer Fibre & Fabrics International and its 100% subsidiary Jeans Knits Pvt. Ltd (FFI/JKPL) in Bangalore, where labour rights organisations have pointed to labour rights violations since the end of 2005. FFI/JKPL, refusing to enter into dialogue with these labour rights organisations, have instead filed complaints of slander at the local court. Since July 2006, the local labour rights organisations are banned from speaking out about labour rights violations in the company's production facilities. The injunction order was prolonged in February 2007 and since that time the case is still dragging on.

The CCC and ICN are concerned that these legal actions are setting a bad precedent and more suppliers may try to use legal means to prevent labour rights and campaigning organisations to report on abuses in the garment industry. This would definitely lessen the effectiveness of efforts to improve the ethical behaviour of companies. International labour rights organisations sharing this concern, such as the Maquila Solidarity Network (http://en.maquilasolidarity.org/en/node/645#1 ), Sweat Free Communities (http://www.sweatfree.org/statement_CCC ), Business Human Rights and CSR Asia (http://www.csr-asia.com/upload/csrasiaweeklyvol3week33.pdf, pages 9-11), have expressed their support to the CCC and ICN.

FFI/JKPL continue to refuse constructive dialogueOn 25 June 2007, FFI/JKPL issued a media statement in which they called upon "all organizations involved to stop with their false accusations and engage in a constructive dialogue with FFI/JKPL to jointly build on the social and sustainable development of the textile and garment industry in India." The CCC and ICN responded by writing FFI/JKPL that they welcomed an invitation to dialogue. The invitation has to be extended formally however, so that the local labour rights organizations can legally accept it. Otherwise, any statement by GATWU c.s. could be construed as evidence for violating the restraining order that is imposed on them. For a dialogue in good faith it is necessary to get the ban on public speaking out of the way, therefore requiring FFI/JKPL to withdraw the complaint at the basis of the temporary restraining order. Also, FFI/JKPL was called upon to agree with an independent observer accepted by all parties who could help in this process. On 13 August 2007 FFI replied by saying that they have no faith in a constructive dialogue unless CCC and ICN quit their 'false and baseless campaign'. Clearly they are not intending to withdraw the complaints they filed with the court against the Indian organisations. The CCC and ICN have always stated that once FFI/JKPL agrees to participate in a mediated dialogue with local stakeholders, the CCC and ICN will report positively through the websites and publications.

SA8000 certification of FFI/JKPL production units suspendedSocial Accountability International (SAI), responsible for the SA8000 standard on labour conditions, has confirmed to the CCC and ICN that its statement issued on 30 April 2007 is applicable to FFI/JKPL. This statement declares the suspension of SA8000 certification essential when companies have obtained "a legal injunction prohibiting discussion of the company's internal operations by stakeholders" (www.sa-intl.org/..). In 2006, five sites of FFI/JKPL received SA8000 certification, notwithstanding information given by the CCC about the reported labour rights violations at these companies. A formal complaint filed at SAI in November 2006 resulted in additional investigation on compliance with international labour standards at FFI/JKPL by a SAI consultant, which confirmed that SA8000 certification of FFI/JKPL was not justified.

Various sources confirm that the SA8000 certification of the FFI/JKPL units is suspended. However, the terms of suspension, including the timeframe, remain unclear. Notwithstanding multiple requests for additional information, SAI has not shared any information about the details of the suspension procedures with CCC and ICN.

SAI's lack of communication regarding the status of the certification is allegedly caused by threats of FFI/JKPL to start a court case against SAI. The CCC and ICN strongly regret SAI's decision to remain silent, and fear that SAI renders its position as independent certification institution untenable once it starts giving in to threats by the companies looking for certification.

FFI in EuropeFFI/JKPL has five production sites in Bangalore, but they are also closely connected to their buyers in Europe. In Italy, the company Tintoria Astico provides the high-tech computer designs to FFI/JKPL. The company's shares are equally divided between Fibres and Fabrics International in Bangalore, and Fibres and Fabrics Europe in the Netherlands. The director of this last company is Anupam Kothari who also is major shareholder of FFI/JKPL. The CCC addressed the company Tintoria Astico, urging them to take immediate action and push FFI/JKPL in Bangalore to withdraw its accusations directed at CCC, ICN and the local labour rights organisations in Bangalore. The letter to FFI/JKPL, included in our last call for action (see http://www.cleanclothes.org/) has also been forwarded to Manfred Gruiters, a Dutch director of FFI/JKPL. To date, neither Tintoria Astico nor Manfred Gruiters responded to CCC and ICN's calls .

Armani, Guess and Rare refuse to take responsibility
Armani, Rare and Guess have to date not reacted to the continuing calls by the CCC and consumers/activists to take action towards FFI/JKPL management. Their refusal to respond to calls from labour rights organisations about working conditions at their production sites is unacceptable. It is time that they take labour rights seriously, and start taking responsibility for the working conditions in their supply chain.

G-Star ducking and diving
On 7 June 2007, the CCC and ICN met with G-Star to see if there were openings to discuss the necessary actions to resolve the pressing labour rights issues at FFI/JKPL. Given that G-Star is the biggest buyer of FFI/JKPL, the CCC and ICN appreciate G-Star's efforts to put more pressure on FFI, but regret its lack of transparency regarding the letters they have addressed to FFI/JKPL concerning this issue. G-Star has recently stated that they have set a deadline to FFI/JKPL to comply with the international right to freedom of association (FoA), and that they believe this will be the case in September this year.

Pushing FFI towards respecting FoA would bring the situation forwards, but the real devil is in the details. Letting FFI management choose the unions they will allow into the factory is certainly no compliance with FoA. It is not for the management to choose the unions they like. Alarming is the recent announcement by a FFI consultant in FEM Business, that the Dutch director Manfred Gruiters "refuses to let GATWU 'rule' at his factories". After pushing out the union GATWU and starting legal proceedings against every organisation supporting FFI workers, how free will a worker be to join the union of their choice? That this can be handled differently shows a recent example of a neighbouring factory, Texports Creations, where a tripartite agreement aimed at improving industrial relations between the union GATWU, GAP and management was reached.

Gap reviewing their sourcing relationshipIn light of the ongoing impasse between FFI and the various national and international organizations, brands like Gap Inc. are under tremendous pressure to review their sourcing relationship with FFI. As members of ETI, they have to fulfil their membership obligations to the provisions of the ETI Base Code, which is being severely tested due to the current situation. ETI confirms that based on information gathered from several sources, the implementation of some of the key provisions of the ETI Base Code, in particular the right to Freedom of Association, are being seriously hampered.

Mexx: speak out!
It is said that Mexx, another client of FFI/JKPL, has concluded that they can no longer continue their orders at this factory. But Mexx has not come out to say why. The Fair Wear Foundation, of which Mexx is a member, has brought out a public statement about the lack of compliance of FFI/JKPL with the FWF code of conduct, especially the right to organise. The CCC and ICN regret that Mexx does not seem to be willing to publicly state that their decision to leave the factory is caused by FFI/JKPL's continuing refusal to engage with the local labour rights organisations (currently banned from public speaking), and that once the labour issues are resolved, they will reconsider doing business with FFI/JKPL Also, to date the company has not indicated how they will ensure that FFI/JKPL workers will not face negative consequences as a result of the decision to suspend orders at FFI/JKPL.

Tell FFI/JKPL to Put an End to the Harassment of Labour Rights Activists
Adapted action alert

Since 2005, FFI/JKPL has used the courts to suppress local civil society groups from reporting on labour conditions. When the CCC and ICN decried the harassment of the Indian human and labour rights organisations, FFI filed suit against them, as well as internet service provider Antenna and CCC's adsl provider Xs4all. For nearly two years, the CCC and ICN have endeavored to normalize the industrial relations at FFI/JKPL and ensure respect for freedom of speech and freedom of association. FFI/JKPL has thus far refused to respond.

Send a letter to FFI today and demand that it put an end to the harassment of human and labour rights activists.

Sample letter FFI:

Dear Mr. Ghiase, Mr. Kothari, and Mr. Gruiters,

I am writing to urge you to immediately withdraw all the lawsuits you have launched against human and labour rights organisations in India and the Netherlands. It is essential that you drop the cases and engage with local stakeholders, including GATWU, NTUI, Cividep and the Women Garment Workers' Front 'Munnade', in an effort to normalize industrial relations. Litigation that suppresses speech is simply not the way to resolve labour issues.

I am particularly alarmed by the recent court decision to execute arrest warrants and call for the extradition of seven members of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), as well as the director of Internet service provider Antenna. These well-respected international organisations are at the forefront of efforts to promote corporate responsibility and they work closely with multinational apparel companies who are committed to purchasing products manufactured under ethical conditions. Efforts to guarantee respect for workers' human rights depends on the ability of corporations to accurately assess working conditions, and for civil society organisations to participate freely in this process. Your court case against the CCC and ICN suggests that you have no interest in acting as a socially responsible business partner.

It is in your economic and societal interest to accept the fact that these cases only intensify the public scrutiny of FFI. Many leading civil society organisations, including as Amnesty International, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the Fair Labor Association, have already condemned the lawsuits. Now is the time to drop the charges and begin a dialogue with the interested parties and your employees.





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