Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are Italian marines who mistook Indian fishermen Valentine Jalastine and Ajesh Bi for pirates, and allegedly shot them on 15 February, killing them in waters off the Indian coastline. Where exactly the shooting occurred is a matter of dispute, with the Italians claiming that the incident occurred in international waters, where Indian laws don’t apply, but Indian authorities arrested the Italians. The two are now free on bail, but not allowed to leave India.
Ferrari claims it respects the Indian judicial system. It has in the past appointed cricketer Sachin Tendulkar as its brand ambassador, and it is participating in the Indian Grand Prix this weekend. But this weekend, it says its car will carry the Italian naval flag, in solidarity with the Italian marines.
Ferrari has the right to say what it wants, of course, even if it means it will be unpopular. But you can court unpopularity by standing up for the truth, or by appearing to do something foolish. And Ferrari is able to grandstand because this is India, not China. Had this been the Shanghai Grand Prix, and if Italian marines had shot Chinese fishermen, how would Ferrari have responded? And how did Ferrari respond when it was asked what it thought of human rights? Did it protest abuses elsewhere?
This isn’t entirely a hypothetical question. Earlier in April, the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked companies that sponsor, partner, or own teams in Formula One, to respond to human rights concerns regarding the staging of the races in Bahrain. As many as 42 companies refused to respond – only 29% did. Ferrari, for what it is worth, did respond. But its response was hardly affirming human rights. In a single sentence, it said: “In the last few days facts have already gave (sic) you an answer. A decision has been taken and we respect this decision.” [Disclosure: I’m one of 68 people who are part of the Resource Centre’s international advisory network, which, as the name suggests, is an informal advisory body which never meets, has no formal role in the Centre’s initiatives or activities.]
The decision being “taken” was to hold the race in Bahrain in spite of protests, in spite of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights saying F1 teams should boycott the Bahrain Grand Prix, in spite of Human Rights Watch calling the Grand Prix in Bahrain “a bad idea”.
As an Italian company, Ferrari may want to fly the Italian flag – which it gets to do whenever its team wins the race. But to fly the naval flag, at such a time, in India? Who are the real victims here, the two Marines, who by all accounts, are facing a fair judicial process, or the two fishermen, who were killed?
As a car, the brand Ferrari represents an attitude – of driving brazenly, stretching limits, making a lot of noise, standing apart in a crowd, and ignoring others around it, leaving a lot of dust, smoke, and noise in its wake. The behaviour of its team management is no different. The horse will prance in India, but it is, as Macbeth said, “a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”