Jul 20, 2012 at 04:34pm IST

Avaaz campaign forces Bahrain company to free 100 Indians

In response to the huge pressure generated by an Avaaz campaign started by an Indian citizen, the Nass Corporation of Bahrain announced that it will immediately permit more than 100 migrant Indian labourers previously trapped in Bahrain to leave the country and return home.

In addition, the company also committed to a new company policy in which workers will no longer face travel bans and Nass will refrain from continuing or instituting legal actions against workers who leave their employ prior to the completion of their contracts.

ALSO SEE The Campaign: Save 100 friends trapped in Bahrain

The petition, which was launched on June 28th, has been signed by over 20,000 people. It was started by Shanker Mariappan from Tamil Nadu, whose brother Pasupathi Mariappan took his own life earlier this year after being denied the ability to leave Bahrain and return home to India.

'Avaaz' forces Bahrain company to free 100 Indians

(Left to Right) Shanker Mariappan, his mother Apoorvam and brother Gubendran. (Avaaz)

Avaaz worked closely with Pasupathi's brother Shanker in Tamil Nadu who was willing to launch a petition in his name and targeted Nass' financial interests in Scotland.

Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel said:

“Nass Corporation has refused to budge on this for years but in just three weeks, people power has brought an end to the construction company’s cruel ban. This is a huge victory for 20,000 people who stood with Shanker Mariappan and pressured Nass Corporation to do the right thing. We welcome this announcement from Nass Corporation and the interventions of the Indian Embassy and Braemar Golf in Scotland who helped secure the release of over 100 workers.”

Mr. Mariappan was one of twenty-six migrant workers to have taken their own lives in Bahrain this year. The travel ban was imposed by the Nass Corporation on labourers who had at one time signed contracts to work for Nass. Mr Shanker Mariappan, who launched the petition with Avaaz, said: "I didn't expect that this would happen - that my petition would go around the world. I can only say thanks to Avaaz. One hundred people have been saved, so I'm really happy."

Mr NK Chawdhary, First Secretary (Consular and Labour Affairs) at the Indian Embassy in Bahrain told Avaaz: "I certainly now understand that Avaaz and internet media has played a great role. Because of this campaign Nass group has changed its policy."

Nass had previously resisted efforts by the Indian Government and other human rights organizations to permit the workers to leave Bahrain. But the Avaaz strategy of targeting Nass’s financial interests and its business partner, Braemar Golf, with whom it formed a joint venture (Braemar Nass WLL) to build a luxury golf course, created a tipping point.

Once made aware of the plight of the Indian migrants, Braemer’s CEO, Keith Haslam, in coordination with Avaaz staff, reached out to his Nass partners to express his concerns. Within days, Nass had agreed to meet with the Indian Embassy in Bahrain and opened negotiations that ultimately resulted in today’s announcement -- a huge step forward for Nass’s own labour practices and respect for human rights.

There are nearly 400,000 Indians in Bahrain and many live in extremely poor conditions: they’re often not paid the wage they are promised and their passports are taken away from them. In 2009 Bahrain’s own labour minister called this visa sponsor system akin to slavery and this announcement by Nass Corporation is a significant shift to bringing an end to this practice.

Shanker started his petition using Avaaz’s new Community Petitions website, on which anyone can start their own petition to address injustices, change policies or organize citizens to overcome challenges at the local, national or global level. Avaaz Community Petitions launched in February and since then has hosted more than 10,000 petitions in five languages.