Patrice Riemens on Fri, 9 Nov 2007 14:48:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> NGO Advocacy as a new form of Non Tariff Barrier to International Trade?

No usual apps for X-posting! ;-)

NGO advocacy activism: A new form of Non-Tariff Barrier to
International Trade?

Pending before the Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Bangalore, India,
at the moment is a (criminal) case brought forward by the Indian
textile firm "Fibre and Fabrics International" (FFI) against two
Dutch advocay NGOs, Clean Clothes Campaign and the India Committee
for the Netherlands (SKK and LIW, by their local acronyms) and their
respective Internet access providers, XS4ALL and Antenna. FFI is a
fairly large enterprise engaged in garment manufacture for export
operating as a sub-contractor to major international clothing labels,
among them G-Star, an originally Dutch multinational. SKK and LIW had
both relayed internationally the seriously distressing findings of
local unions and civil society groups regarding the working conditions
at FFI's manufacturing plants, and this after the firm had managed to
silence its local critics by judicial means. FFI was not best pleased
with the subsequent international attention this attracted, especially
since it seems to have lost it important clients.

Now eight Dutch citizens, staff persons and directors of the
afore-mentioned organisations, are indicted and required to
appear in person before court in India under a mendacious, but
cleverly constructed 'cascade' of counts, starting with libel and
diffamation, escalating into racism/ xenophobia carried on by means of
'cybercrime', and culminating in an alleged "international criminal
conspiracy". The latter indictment constitutes an extraditable offense
in the sense of international agreements on judicial co-operation
between democratic, 'rule of law' states. The acting judge in
Bangalore now needs only to sign an international arrest warrant for
the real risk of deportation and delivery of these eight accused into
an Indian remand jail to become effective. Though the Dutch minister
of justice still would have the last word, he has not yet shown any
inclination to take a stand in the matter, as he appears to see the
incident as a purely private dispute. (The Dutch foreign ministry
meanwhile, perceives the whole affair as profoundly embarassing - in
view of the buoyant Dutch-Indian trade relations.)

This slightly out-of-control evolution of what would be in itself a
fairly routinous incident in to-day's globalised, highly competitive
economy, might be taken as emblematic for the predicament into which
the ongoing trend to lower procurement costs, outsource and delocalise
industrial production has landed us. Over the past two decades,
scandals about labour and human rights abuses in emergent economies
have been legion, national and international organisations, NGOs
and CSOs have been locked in fierce struggles with corporates and
governments big and small, and some, if slow, progress has been made
to alleviate at least the worst excesses of labour exploitation. Both
at the local and at the international level, agreements, rules and
(self-)regulation have seen the light, and are being increasingly
enforced and/ or respected. Yet the present case, and the case with
India in general, is slightly different - and none too hopeful.

For reasons both demographic and cultural, India, since the
'liberalisation' of its economy in the early 90s, has embarked in a
mode of development that may be best characterised as elitist, with
its entry into globalisation aimed to be at the upper reach rather
than at a wholesale level, starting from below - as is the case with
China. Unable to achieve this goal in glamorous sectors such as IT
alone, India has been satisfied to allow the - very substanbtial -
contribution of the more generic manufacturing sector (eg textiles) to
be of a nature one can only very charitably describe as 'traditional',
although it is in fact entirely, and scandalously so, at variance with
21st century ethical, or even plainly economic, standards. As there
is very little likelyhood that this dispensation will be altered -
with the political will, and power, to do so obviously lacking, and
this again, as opposed to the situation in China - India and its
manufacturing export industry now are constantly confronted with
damning, and very damaging, socio-political criticism, both at home
and abroad.

Today however, it would appear that the Indian authorities and
(part of) the business community have embarked in response in a
spirited, if probably desperate, rear-guard action to spite and harass
their opponents. India's minister of commerce, Shri Kamal Nath, has
let it known that criticism of the modus operandi of the Indian
textile export industry amounts to 'hidden protectionism' by parties
unhappy with India's competitive provess and resenting the consequent
delocalisation of their own manufacturing base, theoretising a
fresh form of NTBtIT (Non Tariff Barrier to International Trade in
WTO-GATTese) in the same breath. He also let known his sentiment in
none too diplomatic language to his counterparts in various countries
harbouring pesky and in his view objectionable activist NGOs, and has
now even called European trade commissionner Peter Mandelson to the
rescue. His next step could be to take the dispute to the WTO itself,
where one can only hope, but not entirely be sure of, that he will
bring the house down in roars of laughter. However, in the meanwhile
the Indian government appears to be entirely supportive of the
'robust' judicial steps taken by firms such as FFI to safeguard their
frayed reputation and interests.

Rear-guard actions being what they are, their ultimate failure should
not distract from the considerable, and sometime fatal damage they
may inflict in the short term, to individuals, organisations, and
principle of fairness the upholding of basic human rights. A perverse
consequence, or some would say, an intended effect, of increasing
international judicial collaboration in the wake of the globalisation
of trade, but also of crime, threats, and risks, is the opportunity
to have annoying opponents or critics, first of governments, now
apparently also of corporate interests, to be delivered into the
hands of whatever 'rule of law' jurisdiction the powers that be deem
appropriate to intimidate, harass, and possibly even eliminate them.

This should not be allowed to happen.

Check out for background (from the accuseds point of view):

also for the latest scandal involving the Indian textile industry:,,2200590,00.html

Googling for 'labour' (evt 'child-'), India, and textile(s) will 
will unearth a wealth of further information. 

Patrice Riemens
Firenze, November 9, 2007.

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