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


by HEATHER TIMMONSThe New York Times
January 31st, 2008

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.





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