Of all the subjects to choose to fake film about, BBC journalist Dan McDougall couldn't have chosen a stupider subject than child labour in the Indian garment industry. And he couldn't have chosen a more ridiculous time to make the film than November 6, 2007 – the date he and the editor of the Panorama programme are now known to have first discussed the subject.
Indeed, the only possible way any rational person could have chosen to make the film he did, at the time he did, was by failing to do any research about the use of child labour in Indian garment making. The BBC has now been required to make a public apology to Primark. It should be making a public apology to all of us for employing truly incompetent, uninformed, journalists at all.
In late 2007, allegations surfaced about the use of child labour in factories used by Gap - allegations partly supported by undercover work done by McDougall. These infuriated India's then Trade Minister, Kamal Nath – probably the only man in India with the gall to claim in public no Indian garment factories employed children. So on October 31, 2007, Nath publicly threatened retaliation against EU countries where groups making such allegations were based. Indeed he even claimed at the time that "some Dutch NGOs had morphed pictures of children in their reports"
India's hypersensitivity to claims about child labour – and public posturing about fraud by people making them - were no secret to anyone in the industry at the time. Nor was Nath's cynical preparedness to claim night was day if it gave him a chance to look like a brave little Indian fighting against devious Westerners. Five days earlier, on October 25, Nath had publicly complained to a visiting Dutch trade delegation that activist group, India Committee of the Netherlands, was guilty of criminal defamation in claims made about a Bangalore garment factory.
It is not of course reasonable to expect BBC journalists to have been familiar with this background in November 2007. But it beggars belief that a journalist who'd recently been investigating Gap factories and was then going on to research allegations of child labour in Bangalore could have failed to find out about the paranoia in the Indian government about "false allegations". Unless of course, they'd failed to do anything as basic as Google child labour in India. Try it. Set the range for the two months prior to December 14 when McDougall set off for India, and see what Google tells you.
Nonetheless McDougall flew off to Bangalore a month later, where he claims to have started researching on the spot. In February 2008, McDougall began filming what he claimed to be children at work in a Bangalore factory.
Today, three years later, we know the film he made was a fake. And so, in the minds of those Indians supporting Nath's preposterous denials, McDougall's sloppy journalism clearly demonstrates that all those Western claims really are based on lies.
And such Indians still exist. On May 31 of this year, the US Department of Labour confirmed its blacklisting of garment making in India because of the use of child labour. For the previous year, India's Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) had been using American lobbyists to try to persuade the US government there were no child workers in Indian garment factories. The lobbying failed: the Americans rejected the document presented by the AEPC as being "not germane"(getting an expensive firm of Washington lobbyists to write a document repeatedly denying the existence of child labour, without a shred of evidence, does not constitute evidence of nonexistence). But there are still a large number of people in the Indian clothing establishment who seriously believe that if they claim allegations of child labour are all lies often enough and loud enough, people will believe them.
And now, thanks to McDougall's inability to work even the simplest search engine, they've got their evidence. After all, if even the BBC is faking these child labour charges, they'll say, how much less reliable must claims from charities like Oxfam be? As for campaigns against other unpleasant Indian practices, like Sumangali? Well these campaigns are coming from Dutch activists. And we know they're all liars, the AEPC lobby will be saying.
McDougall's fraudulent film one was awarded as the "Best Current Affairs programme in 2008" by Britain's Royal Television Society.
His next award will almost certainly come from Indian human rights abusers for giving them the "Best Excuse Ever for Denying Everything"