This article is published by Labour File, 17-10-2007

Labour File News Service

Ongoing Harassment of Garment Workers Extends to their Defenders and Campaigners Abroad

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, the international NGO working to protect human rights worldwide, issued a public statement expressing its concern in the continuing harassment of women workers and defenders of their rights in the garment exports units in Bangalore, Karnataka. According to the statement issued, the harassment has included the filing of apparently false criminal charges against the activists and workers, aiming to curb their freedom of expression.

Bangalore has been in the limelight in the last few years due to the notorious acts against garment workers in the export units. Labour File had earlier reported an incident of violation in the city, ( in which the management and some hooligans, supported by the police, attacked a peaceful condolence meeting, organised by the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU), in memory of Gayathri, a 19-year-old woman worker who lost her life in an accident. On 12 April 2007, Gayathri, who was employed in Bombay Rayon Fashions, was hit by a bus contracted by the factory, in front of the factory gates.
Young innocent girls and women are reported to be subjected to constant harassment, resulting many a times in suicide or death due to negligence of the management. The huge profit-making export units in Bangalore victimise their women staff. According to some unions that work for the rights of the garment workers in Bangalore, the women workers in this sector face maximum exploitation, stress and sexual abuse.
Anyone who raises their voice in protest is immediately thrown out of the factory. The target of the garment export lobby has spread farther, attacking the activists and campaigners who raise their voice in support of these oppressed. The recent example is the arrest warrant issued in India on 29 September 2007 against the seven Netherlands-based activists of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). These activists who travel frequently to India are at a risk of arrest, following the charges against them. The activists have been part of an international campaign highlighting the violations of labour rights of women workers in two garment export companies in Bangalore (Fibres and Fabrics International and its subsidiary Jeans Knit). Garments produced by these two companies are exported to the Netherlands and other countries in the West.

It is in this context that Amnesty International has come up with their public statement (Public Statement-AI Index: ASA 20/017/2007 (Public);News Service No: 189; 2 October 2007).
According to the statement, India, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has specific obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR to safeguard the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association. Hence, harassment and intimidation of such a nature questions the international human rights law.
Besides, calling on India to adopt all legislations, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure the rights and freedoms for the defence of human rights as set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998), the organisation also urges the urges the government of Karnataka and India’s National Human Rights Commission to ensure that:

  • The right to freedom of expression of trade unions in Bangalore and activists based in the Netherlands is respected.
  • The reports of harassment, including the filing of apparently false criminal charges against the activists, are investigated by an independent, impartial and competent body.
  • The charges against the activists are dropped, unless it is a recognised criminal offence.
  • The government upholds its obligation under international law that workers are not forced to work under conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

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Landelijke India Werkgroep - November 26, 2007