A devastating judgement was passed today against one of wealthiest people in the UK, who had sued the prestigious Channel 4 News station for alleged libel against him during a report on human rights abuses in Malaysia.
Sir James Dyson is a billionaire entrepreneur of electric goods including vacuum cleaners and hand dryers. Recently, he abandoned the UK, together with his business, for the apparently more congenial environment of Singapore and has sub-contracted much of his manufacturing processes to factories in Malaysia.
Channel 4 News picked up and reported on allegations of serious mistreatment of migrant workers at one such factory – allegations which had originally been dismissed by the Dyson management as being unsubstantiated. The company later accepted the complaints, following further investigations, and has severed relations with the sub-contractor and offered assistance to some of the abused workers from Nepal.
It was thanks to reporting by news and human rights organisations that the abuse had become public. However, according to his case against Channel 4 News, Sir James believed that his name (which is used for his brand) was drawn unfairly into the matter and that his reputation had been undermined.
Sarawak Report covered the report back in February this year and likewise found itself the subject of aggressive threats from Dyson’s local lawyers, Wong & Partners. The lawyers demanded SR should keep those threats confidential whilst agreeing “WITHIN 24 HOURS” to publish an apology that would be dictated by the company.
“TAKE NOTICE that if we do not receive your written confirmation that you will … Provide our Client with a written assurance and undertaking that you will cease and refrain from further posting or circulating the Offending Statement, the Article (which contains the Offending Statement), and/or publish any videos, articles and/or statements against our Client which may be defamatory in nature in the future; and ….. Publish an unreserved public apology in a form and format to be prepared by our Client, the details of which will be further communicated to you [it will be apparent that you intend to continue defaming our Client].”
Sarawak Report rejected these threats and pointed out that Wong & Partners were far from objective in the matter in that they had been themselves pursued in court over their alleged negligence as the lawyers for 1MDB – a scandal exposed by Sarawak Report.
The threats were withdrawn. However, Dyson continued in his claims against Channel 4 News, even though the abuses against migrant workers might have remained unaddressed in the absence of their reporting.
Today, the High Court judge in London dismissed Dyson’s seemingly self-centred complaints which appeared to put his own concerns centre stage rather than the appalling plight of workers involved in the manufacture of his products.
As Justice Nicklin explained, exposing problems of abuse at a factory that was producing Dyson goods did not mean the programme had defamed him personally:
“The broadcast is simply not about him, and no ordinary reasonable viewer could conclude that he was being in any way criticised. The allegations in the broadcast were clearly targeted, but the targets do not include the first claimant [Sir James].
“Only a reader that was hopelessly naive about the way in which global companies like Dyson operate could consider that a single person, its founder, had day-to-day management responsibility for what happened in a manufacturing plant that supplied its products.”
Perhaps, that judgement will cause this vengeful billionaire to reflect how, despite his wealth and renown, there are other concerns that hold precedent over his sense of self-importance and self-image – for example exposing abuse and exposing crime?
This was clearly a bigger story than just the minor reference to himself: it involved the welfare of vulnerable workers. The judge ruled that such reporting should not be quashed simply because Sir James Dyson has the wealth to sue a respected news organisation for daring to mention his name in the context of an unflattering story in which his company played a distant part.
Campaigners for migrant workers rights expressed relief today that the important story has received further publicity and that the message about their plight has not been suppressed. Independent migrant worker rights specialist, Andy Hall, who highlighted this case said:
“I hope this case can contribute to ensuring brands and buyers, alongside investors and public procurers, conduct more adequate due diligence to prevent modern slavery conditions arising in their supply chains in the future. Consumers and businesses should never benefit from the misery of workers such as those at ATA and other Dyson suppliers.’’
Note: The Malaysian High Court also ruled today on the case brought against the Editor of this site by the Sultanah of Terengganu, which was likewise dismissed on the grounds that the Sultanah was not defamed by their book The Sarawak Report detailing the 1MDB scandal. We would like to express thanks our legal team and to Malaysian justice in the management of this case.