Bonum Certa Men Certa

Conviction, jail for Hinduja family, Debian exploitation comparison

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Jun 23, 2024

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock.

There was widespread news on Friday night about the convictions and jail sentences for one of the world's wealthiest families on charges relating to the exploitation of domestic labor. The news reports all note that under Swiss law, there was a not-guilty verdict on the stronger charge of human trafficking.

The Swiss media published more detailed reports in French and I was struck by the similarities to the work practices in Debian and other voluntary groups where certain companies are bullying volunteers.

Ajay et Namrata Hinduja? Absents. Les époux, résidents de Cologny, n’étaient pas sur le banc des accusés, vendredi, à 16 h. Ils devaient pourtant écouter la lecture du jugement du Tribunal correctionnel. Un jugement qui les condamne à des peines de 4 ans pour usure par métier.

It says the Hindujas did not attend court, they were in Monaco. The former Debian Project Leader, Sam Hartman, used his residence in the United States to publish a number of emails and blogs that were offensive to my family and I. His successor, Jonathan Carter, continued the practice of publishing offensive emails and blog posts from South Africa. It seems to be a common practice in the Debian world to have people publish offensive things about volunteers from outside the jurisdiction where the victim resides, frustrating attempts of volunteers to seek justice.

En revanche, la traite d’êtres humains, chef d’accusation au cœur de l’affaire, n’a pas été retenue par les trois juges. Comment l’expliquer? Juridiquement, il ne peut être retenu que les membres du personnel indien étaient privés de leur autodétermination. Car certains d’entre eux, après être rentrés en Inde, sont revenus travailler à Genève. Ils connaissaient donc les conditions de vie et de travail dans la résidence de Cologny.

This states that the human trafficking charge did not result in a conviction and it goes on to explain that one reason they could not be convicted on this charge is that some of the workers had returned to India and then come back to Switzerland a second time. When agreeing to return to Switzerland, the workers knew their working conditions in advance.

In the UK's first successful trafficking case, judges made the opposite decision: they accepted that the victims had been trafficked even though victims told investigators they were willing to travel.

It is interesting to remember that the Debian Day Volunteer Suicide victim had resigned once in 2007 and then agreed to return to Debian again. Eerily similar to the Hinduja domestic workers who returned to India and then decided to come back to Geneva. Frans Pop's second resignation email feels like a suicide note. In fact, it was a suicide note.

Dans ce système, les parents Prakash et Kamal Hinduja ont joué un rôle plus important en tant que recruteurs. Les deux septuagénaires, absents depuis le début des débats, écopent de peines de 4 ans et demi de prison pour usure par métier, incitation à l’entrée et au séjour illégal et emploi d’étrangers sans autorisation.

This tells us that while the human trafficking charge was not proven, the offences that were proven involved the exploitation, the illegal manner in which the workers entered Switzerland and the illegal residence without a permit.

We can see similar phenomena around Google Summer of Code. Mentors in Europe have commented from time to time that the notion of "failing" an intern who has an illness or accident does not give them any pro-rata payment for the period they did work before leaving the program. These practices would appear to be invalid and maybe illegal for any interns resident in Switzerland. In particular, the Swiss authorities would expect the interns to have their social insurance and accident insurance premiums paid for the days where the interns worked. Google makes no such payments, they send the money directly to interns using a payoneer card.

À leur arrivée à Genève, les employés faisaient l’objet d’une demande de permis de séjour à Nice, où ils se rendaient tous les six mois avec l’objectif de renouveler leurs documents temporaires européens. En réalité, tous travaillaient dans la villa de Cologny. Les conditions? «Misérables», au dire des juges qui citent les chambres partagées sans fenêtre, les lits à étages, l’absence d’intimité.

This tells us that the workers were brought in through Nice in France and they had a resident permit for France. The French residence permit permits short trips into Switzerland but it is not valid for somebody who works full time in Geneva. It goes on to say that the living and working conditions were "miserable", they were obliged to share rooms, they had no windows in their rooms and they had bunk beds, an absence of privacy outside the work day.

In fact, when DebConf13 came to Switzerland, most people entered Switzerland on a tourist visa and some of them were really working for up to two weeks without any Swiss salary or insurnace. DebConf expected people to leave their families behind and share rooms with each other. Here are some of the bunk beds.

As an alternative, the local DebConf team had also proposed sleeping in the Civil Defence Bunkers in Geneva.

Le Camp, Beausite

In 2015, I asked if Carla could share the food at DebConf15 in Africa. Margarita Manterola, one of the Google women, sent a very angry email reply insisting that the workers have to share rooms with assigned roommates:

Last year, you signed up for the conference but didn't attend, cancelling on the last minute, when you had already been assigned a roommate.

The TdG report goes on to examine the work itself:

En se basant sur l’épais dossier qui débute avec une perquisition de la police en avril 2018, le Tribunal a établi que les domestiques travaillaient entre 12 et 18 heures par jour pour un salaire versé en roupies équivalent à 325 francs par mois. C’est 87% de moins que les minima de la branche à l’époque des faits.

This says that the workers were paid 325 Swiss Francs per month but it was actually paid in rupees.

Other reports note that the accounting records show the Hinduja family paid more money for their dog than they paid the staff. The records state the budget for the dog was CHF 8,584 per year.

The Debian volunteers do not receive any payment at all. The Debian constitution insists we are all volunteers.

Developers are volunteers who agree to further the aims of the Project insofar as they participate in it, and who maintain package(s) for the Project or do other work which the Project Leader's Delegate(s) consider worthwhile.

Therefore, we also receive less than the Hinduja's dog.

The Google Summer of Code program gives $500 to the organization for each student that is mentored. In 2018, Google sent a payment of $17,200 to the bank account of Software in the Public Interest, Inc. I did not receive any of this money. I received no payment from the Debian bank account. I received no payment from Google. But these highly dependent women like Margarita Manterola at Google complain and get angry when I am not available.

Subject: Re: Payment Instructions for GSoC 2018 Organizations
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2018 11:39:41 +0200
From: Martin Michlmayr <tbm@cyrius.com>
To: Molly de Blanc <deblanc@riseup.net>
CC: Daniel Pocock <daniel@pocock.pro>, treasurer@debian.org, outreach@debian.org, treasurer@spi-inc.org

This is just to let you know that we're about to receive the funds from Google for GSoC 2018.
2. Debian Project - $17,200
(note: this is more than you should get according to my calculation, but maybe I'm wrong: >>> 2200 + 500 + 500 * 26 15700 I guess you're getting 4x the student travel scholarship )
Payment for each organization includes:
* Student stipends ($500 per student developer) * Mentor summit stipend ($2200) * Student travel scholarship ($500) * Deductions for missing evaluations ($1100 per evaluation missed)
Martin
* Molly de Blanc <deblanc@riseup.net> [2018-06-29 12:07]: > Thanks, Martin! > > Cheers, > Molly > > On 2018-06-28 22:52, Martin Michlmayr wrote: > > * Martin Michlmayr <tbm@cyrius.com> [2018-06-28 23:50]: > >> * Daniel Pocock <daniel@pocock.pro> [2018-06-28 23:41]: > >> > Does SPI need anything else from the GSoC admins or we can leave it in > >> > SPIs hands? > >> > >> (With my SPI hat on) I'll ask Google if projects using SPI have to > >> fill out the form. I suspect not. SPI will probably just have to > >> send them a list of projects. > > > > Yep, you don't need to fill out the form.
-- Martin Michlmayr https://www.cyrius.com/

The report in French also noted the obligation to work 12 to 18 hours per day.

While looking at the case of the Debian Day Volunteer Suicide, I looked at the volumes of emails being generated in the months before the suicide. The report shows an increasing workload with emails arriving 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Here is the chart again:

debian-private, fjp, Frans Pop, Debian, suicide

Debian even expects people to announce their absences and vacations, here are some of those messages from the (leaked) debian-private secret cubby house. In this case, the time that Frans Pop spends on the journey to and from a Debian event is being reported as vacation time:

Subject: [VAC] Now until about Sept 10
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2006 01:46:47 +0200
From: Frans Pop <elendil@planet.nl>
To: debian-private@lists.debian.org

Hi folks,
Going to jump on my bike to crash Steve McIntyre's annual party in Cambridge. See some of you there...
For D-I related issues please contact (#)debian-boot or Joey Hess.
Cheers, FJP
Par ailleurs, il était fréquent que les salaires ne soient pas versés. Pour preuve, en avril 2018, lors de la perquisition de la police, pas un centime n’avait été payé depuis le début de l’année.

The report says that sometimes the salary wasn't paid at all. It is not clear if this was a punishment. We see the same thing in Debian, sometimes people have to wait over 12 months to have expenses reimbursed. GSoC Interns from India complained about exactly the same problem in Debian:

Subject:        Re: [Soc-coordination] DebConf travel / GSoC student payments?
Date:   Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:25:18 +0530
From:   Komal Sukhani <komaldsukhani@gmail.com>
To:     Michael Schultheiss <schultmc@spi-inc.org>
CC:     Daniel Pocock <daniel@pocock.pro>, treasurer@spi-inc.org,
soc-coordination@lists.alioth.debian.org

Hi Michael,
I still don't got the DebConf travel reimbursement. Have you made the payment?
Sorry for trouble.
On Mon, Nov 2, 2015 at 9:54 AM, Michael Schultheiss <schultmc@spi-inc.org <mailto:schultmc@spi-inc.org>> wrote:
Apologies for the delays in payments. I should have the payments processed this week and payments shoud be received in approximately 1-2 weeks.
Daniel Pocock wrote: > > > Hi Michael, > > I've had a few emails from my student about reimbursement.

In their defence, the Hinduja family argued they were not the real employers:

Dans ce contexte, les parents Hinduja, leur fils et leur belle-fille sont tous considérés comme les employeurs de leurs domestiques – ce que la défense avait tenté de faire rejeter. Et ils connaissaient la situation de faiblesse de leurs serviteurs ainsi que la disproportion des prestations dont ils bénéficiaient. Voilà ce qui en fait des usuriers par métier pour le Tribunal correctionnel.

The tribunal did not accept that argument from the defence, finding that employer obligations did in fact exist between the Hinduja family and their domestic staff.

In both Debian and GSoC, we see similar shenanigans. Stephanie Taylor at Google insists on referring to the GSoC interns as "students" and never using terms like "intern" or "employee". Looking at the content of the public rules for GSoC, it looks a lot like the master/slave relationship of employer/employee. In the past thirty years, there have been numerous judgments throughout Europe where courts chose to ignore these shenanigans and word games. Here is an email where Stephanie admits that interns can't have other jobs at the same time:

Subject:        Re: [GSoC Mentors] 40 hours/week in the FAQ?
Date:   Tue, 26 Apr 2016 23:53:57 -0700
From:   'Stephanie Taylor' via Google Summer of Code Mentors List
<google-summer-of-code-mentors-list@googlegroups.com>
Reply-To:       Stephanie Taylor <sttaylor@google.com>
To:     Daniel Pocock <daniel@pocock.pro>
CC:     Google Summer of Code Mentors List
<google-summer-of-code-mentors-list@googlegroups.com>

Daniel,
We have always told students they should consider GSoC to be a full time commitment and thus should not have another job or part time job, etc. We tell them to expect to do about 40 hours a week. It could be less some weeks, more some weeks, it really depends on their efforts and how they manage their own time.
Best, Stephanie

Just as the Hinduja family pretended they were not the real employer, we see companies like Google exercising control over Debian volunteers but pretending they do not have any employer responsibilities. Margarita Manterola was complaining about absences. Stephanie Taylor sets deadlines for mentors to submit evaluations. Each year, as more and more rules creep in, It looks and feels more like being an employee of Google but they are still calling it Debian.

We missed DebConf14 because of a medical issue but the Google woman was still holding a grudge a year later.

Other reports in English tell us that the Hinduja family confiscated the passports of their domestic staff. This is analogous to Debian removing people from the Debian keyring to exert some coercive control over them.

In 2014, Daniel Baumann from Switzerland was removed from the Debian keyring. In 2018, Dr Norbert Preining and I were removed from the keyring. In every case, we were told that our keys were being removed secretly and if we exhibit obedience, the overlords would not tell anybody that they did this.

From the email disclosed by Dr Norbert Preining when they sought to enslave him in December 2018:

Therefore, we are revoking your status as a Debian Developer with
immediate effect. You remain a Debian Maintainer for a minimum of 6
months, after which you can apply for getting your Debian Developer
status back.

Here is the entry in the Debian keyring repository, the PGP keys are a digital equivalent of a passport. The commit removes Dr Preining's key from the Debian Developer keyring and adds his key to the Debian Maintainer keyring, which has become a keyring for slaves now. Evil.

Author: Jonathan McDowell <noodles@earth.li>  2018-12-21 09:11:51
Committer: Jonathan McDowell <noodles@earth.li>  2018-12-21 09:11:51
Parent: 2c860ac9802b3928aa189f3a15f1768e7ea0702e (Update changelog)
Child:  e11a90692a986865ec8087de7228787379363b7d (Import changes sent to keyring.debian.org HKP interface)
Branches: master, remotes/origin/master
Follows: 2018.12.14
Precedes: 2018.12.24

Add new DM key 0x6CACA448860CDC13 (Norbert Preining) (RT #7586) Action: add Subject: Norbert Preining Username: preining Role: DM Key: F7D8A92826E316A19FA0ACF06CACA448860CDC13 Key-type: 4096R RT-Ticket: 7586 Request-signed-by: enrico Notes: Move from DD keyring

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