Death threat and harassment of union leaders

There have been serious violations of the freedom to associate in a union at the Shahi Export factory in Karnataka, Southern India.

Harassment and intimidation of union leaders has already been going on for over 18 months at Unit 26 of the factory, and in  the last months of 2014 the violations have increased. This has resulted in the removal of three local union leaders of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU). One of the dismissed workers filed a complaint with the police about intimidation, threats, unlawful transfers to remote units of the Sahi factory and forced removal from the factory's premises. Shahi Export management reacted by filing a counter-complaint against two of the local union leaders.

Death threat

The situation had already escalated in August 2014 when the three local union leaders were singled out, shouted at and made to stand outside the HR Managers office for the entire day for refusing to work on Sundays. The workers were within their rights to refuse work on Sundays and other holidays, as this is overtime work and can only be voluntary. The next day the three were told that they were no longer allowed to enter the factory premises. One of the union leaders was physically attacked at the factory premises by an unknown man, who threatened him that he 'should stop doing union work or be prepared to be killed'.

Forced to resign

Days later two of the workers received a letter telling them they had been promoted to be assistant supervisor. Both refused since this is not their ambition, and above all the change would not allow them to do their organising work. One of them was held against his will in the Human Resources General Manager's office for several hours in an attempt to force him to sign his resignation letter. He was only allowed to leave after they forcibly took his signature and told him to leave the factory. The two others were told that they would both be transferred to units of Shahi Export, about 85 km away, the next day.

The police are currently looking into the complaints, and anticipatory bail has been granted to the worker leaders who risk a prison sentence of several years.

H&M and GAP

The Clean Clothes Campaign is in contact with H&M, the main buyer of the factory, and C&A. The global Union League for Brand Responsibility also contacted the American buyer GAP to step up and ensure that workers' rights of association are respected at their suppliers' factories, and that the existing dispute will be resolved. This should include reinstatement of the union leaders in the same unit, payment of back wages, an investigation into the behaviour of the Human Resources managers and an arrangement that will ensure future respect for workers rights of association at Shahi Exports.

At the time of writing (December 2014) a first meeting between the union and the factory management has taken place. This led to a tentative initial agreement on the reinstatement in the same position, including back wages, of the local union leaders. The other demands will be discussed in the months to come.