Protest Against Hitachi supplier lawsuit against Human Rights Defender

Date: 17 August 2011

Time: 11:30am
Meeting point: Exit B, Shek Mum MTR Station (Hitachi’s office: 18/F, Ever Gain Centre, 28 On Muk Street, Shatin)

The ATNC Monitoring Network and a group of labour activists in Hong Kong will protest against Hitachi for its connivance in labour abuses at its supplier, Asahi Kosei in Malaysia. Mr. Charles Hector, a Malaysian human rights defender, lawyer and blogger was sued by the Japanese-owned electronics company Asahi Kosei for alleged defamation after Hector posted messages of rights violations against Burmese migrant workers at the company. Asahi Kosei demanded a compensation of USD 3.3 million (about HKD 25.7 million) for reputation damage. Despite protests from labour rights groups, Hitachi has not responded to the public. The full trial of the case is scheduled on 24-26 August. Asian Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network calls on Hitachi to use its influence to demand Asahi Kosei to drop the case.

In February 2011, Mr. Hector published a series of blog posts in which he faulted the company for unfair treatment of a group of 31 Burmese migrant workers. These workers had to put up with not getting sick leave, non-payment of their wages, threats of deportation, removal of their possession such as electrical equipments and cooking utensils, and being cut off of electricity in their lodgings. A few daring workers lodged complaints against their employer at the Malaysian National Human Rights Institution (SUHAKAM) and the Labour Department. Mr. Hector documented and commented upon this situation on his blog.Asahi Kosei argued that those workers are supplied by an outsourcing agent and not on their direct payroll, and thus the company is not responsible for what happened to them.
In retaliation, it also sued Charles Hector for alleged reputation damage.

Defamation claim should not be abused to restrict freedom of expression. It is a matter of public interest to ensure the grievances of any persons whose human rights have been violated can be heard. Without it, there is no access to justice. If any person or organisation which brings legitimate grievances of migrant workers to the attention of the public risks lawsuit, the already precarious state of the migrant workers will most certainly deteriorate even further. Employing scared tactics of retaliation and litigation would not help any enterprise’s reputation; rather it laid bare the company’s lack of tolerance and inability to deal with criticism. By showing a complete lack of sincerity in tackling the violations exposed and only focusing on silencing the whistleblower, Asahi Kosei is hurting its own image much more than whatever Charles Hector could have done.

Although the lawsuit was filed by Asahi Kosei, it is incumbent on Hitachi to rectify the problems at its supplier. Last June, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a set of global guiding principles for business, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, designed to ensure that companies do not violate human rights in the course of their transactions and provide redress when infringements occur, including the protection of human rights defenders. The UN Guiding Principles request companies to mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations by their business relationships, including relationships with business partners and entities in their supply chain.1

As a world leading company in the electronics business, Hitachi should take the lead in ensuring compliance to human rights and respect of freedom of expression throughout its supply chain Regrettably, Hitachi has so far shown no commitment to rectify the rights violations at its supplier. We hereby demand Hitachi to:

1.Request Asahi Kosei to withdraw the lawsuit against Mr. Hector immediately and unconditionally, who has brought legitimate concerns regarding violations to the attention of the company and the public.

2.Engage in a serious dialogue with workers, their representatives, the media and human rights defenders to ensure adequate identification and remediation of any violations of labor rights and basic human rights that have occurred at Asahi Kosei.

3.Ensure the immediate reinstatement, with full rights and benefits, of the Burmese workers, especially those currently in hiding and not yet allowed to go back to work in Asahi Kosei’s factory.

4.Request that in order to avoid future concerns of labor and human rights violations, Asahi Kosei cease using these labor supply agents, and instead employ the 31 Burmese workers directly under Asahi Kosei.

Should there be any enquiries, please contact Mr. Kwok Wing Kin, ATNC Monitoring Network (Email: coordinator@atnc.org); Ms. Debby Chan ( Email: debby@sacom.hk))

Asian Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network

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