Guest blogger Ashish Fernandes, oceans campaigner from our New Delhi office, explains how corporate giant Tata is taking legal action against Greenpeace India over an online turtle game.
It's been five years since Greenpace India started its campaign against the Dhamra port project on the east coast of India which threatens a host of wild species including horseshoe crabs and crocodiles. The port happens to be a stone's throw away from one of the world's largest nesting sites for the olive ridley sea turtle and India's second largest mangrove forest, which is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance to boot.
The port is nearly built, but it's clear that we're still a huge thorn in the side of the company behind this ecological disaster, the giant TATA Steel corporation, which is a 50-50 stakeholder in the project. In the UK, the TATAs are known for their takeovers of steelmaker Corus, Tetley Tea and the Jaguar and Land Rover brands.
A couple of weeks ago on 16 July TATA filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace, asking for $2.1 million in damages for trademark infringement and defamation. The immediate cause: a game called Turtle Vs Tata hosted on our website in which viewers have to guide a turtle away from the TATA 'demons' who seek to destroy it. It's a harmless bit of fun that draws visitors to the site, where they can learn not only about the threat posed by the Dhamra port but also the fact that over 300 more ports are proposed for the Indian coast, many in equally vulnerable habitats.
Well, it looks like the TATAs don't have much of a sense of humour - this lawsuit is clearly an attempt to silence and intimidate critics. That tactic won't work - remember Nestlé's recent social networking fiasco?
The next hearing in the case is 12 August in the Delhi High Court, when the court will consider TATAs plea for an injunction against the game. The case is the first of its kind in India and will set a legal precedent for the right to free speech and legitimate criticism.
In the meantime, there's been an explosion of interest, not just in the game itself but in the issue - both the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal have covered the story, and the coverage on Tiny Green Bubble is also worth reading.
TATA is a growing global corporation. Financial analysts are already watching the company's economic performance, but now their performance on issues of sustainability and social justice is going to be subject to increasing scrutiny. And heavy handed attempts to silence their critics aren't going to help.