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A worker at the Natural Fruit factory. Photo from naturalfruit.co.th.
A worker at the Natural Fruit factory. Photo from naturalfruit.co.th.
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Thailand: migrant labour investigator 'not guilty'

The Ecologist

29th October 2014

A charge of 'criminal defamation' against Andy Hall, the Finnwatch migrant labour researcher who revealed the plight of migrant food sector workers in Thailand, was dismissed today. But with another three civil and criminal cases pending, he's back in court tomorrow.

Instead of allowing companies to bring human rights activists to court, Thailand needs to prosecute companies like Natural Fruit, who are violating labour rights.

The Prakanong Court in Bangkok today dismissed a defamation charge brought against Andy Hall by Natural Fruit Company Ltd, which owns a pineapple export factory, due to an "unlawful interrogation process" under section 120 of the criminal procedure code.

Natural Fruit has launched multiple criminal and civil prosecutions against the researcher since February 2013 following his contribution to a Finnwatch report - 'Cheap has a high price' - published that year. The report revealed serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit's pineapple juice production facilities

Today's verdict - just the first of four cases filed against Andy Hall by Natural Fruit - related to an interview Hall gave to the global broadcaster Aljazeera on his criminal prosecutions.

"We are relieved and glad that justice has prevailed in this case", said Sonja Vartiala, the Executive Director of Finnwatch. But she adds that there remain serious problems in working conditions at Natural Fruit: "The question that now must be asked is why Thailand's authorities have not taken action against the company."

Three more legal cases await him

The second case, a US$10m civil defamation case, begins tomorrow at Nakhon Pathom Court.

The third case, computer crimes act and criminal defamation charges, will proceed on 17th November at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. Dates for a fourth US$4 million civil case have not yet been confirmed.

If Hall is found guilty of the additional criminal and civil cases, he could face up to seven years in prison and be required to pay as much as $14 million in compensation to Natural Fruit.

Hundreds of other international NGOs regard the court proceedings against Andy Hall as "judicial harassment" and see that his important and successful work is being seriously hindered by these actions.

Finnwatch is now demanding that the company drop all the charges against Andy Hall. "Instead of allowing companies to bring human rights activists to court, Thailand needs to prosecute companies like Natural Fruit, who are violating labour rights", says Vartiala.

Beware Thai fish, seafood, pineapple products

Writing for The Ecologist last month as his prosecution began, Hall denounced the widespread abuse of workers in Thailand's export-oriented food sector:

"Abuse experienced by migrants in Thailand, often treated as second class citizens or walking ATMs, extends to many export markets. Consumers across the world should be increasingly aware of this. The abuse extends beyond fishing, seafood and pineapples, those products whose abusive supply chains have already been well publicized.

"Exploitation of migrants by employers, officials and brokers is widespread and systematic in Thailand. Thai migration policy has always been a shambles, devoid of long term planning and the rule of law. Corruption and abuse of power are all encompassing features of the migration system here, every day experiences for the workers themselves."

But he added that whatever the outcome of the trials for him, they were finally bringing the prospect of respite to the workers themselves:

"My harassment is being used effectively by me, consumer groups, trade unions and rights groups as a means of increasing awareness and interest of consumers and importers of Thai products on the systematic nature of migrant exploitation in Thailand and the link to trade, export and corporate social responsibility.

"With more awareness surely comes more pressure for positive change and then eventually the change itself."

Demonstrations are being held today in Finland, Netherlands, UK and the United States to support Andy Hall.

 


 

Walk Free campaign: Call on Natural Fruit to drop all charges against Andy Hall.

The report: 'Cheap has a high price'.

 

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