INDIA: H.P. Case to Go Forward in India

Publisher Name: 
The New York Times


NEW DELHI - A decision by India's highest court may force international companies who outsource business here to do more to guard the safety of local workers.

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard
GlobalSoft, the company's software development and information
technology services operation in India, should face prosecution in the
case of an employee who was raped and killed by a driver the company
employed in 2005.

According to state law governing Bangalore,
where the Hewlett-Packard operations are based, women are not allowed
to work in the evening. A special provision is made for information
technology and related companies, which much ensure adequate
transportation and security for their employees who are women. A lower
court ruled that Som Mittal, who is now Hewlett-Packard's head of
services business in Asia Pacific and Japan,should be held liable for
prosecution after the employee was killed. He appealed that decision to
the Supreme Court.

Lawyers for Mr. Mittal argued that he should
be exempt from the laws about worker safety because he was "occupying
the position of management," according to a copy of the justices'
decision.

The Supreme Court justices were not ruling on the
merits of the case against Mr. Mittal, which is expected to come to
trial later this year. Instead, they were ruling on whether to overturn
the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court's "inherent power of
quashing a criminal proceeding should be exercised very sparingly and
with circumspection and that too in the rarest of rare cases," Justice
H.K. Sema wrote in the decision.

Hewlett-Packard said Thursday that it had not seen a copy of the Supreme Court ruling and was unable to comment.

Foreign
companies, either directly or through a third party, employ hundreds of
thousands of people in India as customer service representatives,
accountants, information technology specialists, developers and
researchers. Nearly half of these employees are women, and many work
overnight shifts to be on the same time zone as their foreign clients.

Several
cases of the murder, rape or harassment of these workers have attracted
national attention and prompted calls for more vigilance and
responsibility by international employers. Most recently, a Wipro employee was raped and killed in November, and a driver employed by the company has been charged.

Outsourcing
companies often provide transportation to employees to and from their
homes because of the unusual hours they work. The number of qualified
and certified drivers has not kept pace with the number of new
outsourcing employees, executives in the industry say.

Many of
these companies have increased screening of drivers and instituted new
rules, like not allowing women to ride alone with drivers. The industry
is also setting up security patrols to monitor cabs.

AMP Section Name:Labor
  • 104 Globalization
  • 116 Human Rights