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September 03, 2014
Thai Company Sues Activist for Revealing Human Rights Abuses
    by Robert Kropp

Instead of addressing human rights violations in its workplace, Natural Fruit sues British activist Andy Hall for defamation, a charge that could land him in jail for eight years.


In 2013, the Finnish human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Finnwatch published Cheap Has a High Price, a report detailing human rights violations in three Thai factories that provide food products for several European brands. One of the authors of the report is Andy Hall, a British human rights activist and migration expert whose research uncovered child labor and other violations at the pineapple factory of Natural Fruit.

The Finnwatch investigation, which also addressed similar human rights issues in two tuna processing plants in Thailand, focused on the corporate responsibility of the European companies whose supply chains included Natural Fruit. “The responsibility practices of the Finnish retail chains included in the report, as well as those of the Netherlands-based Refresco...were insufficient,” the report stated. It details widespread “exploitation of a mainly non-Thai migrant workforce – mostly vulnerable workers from neighboring Myanmar,” including “forced labour, human trafficking, child labor, low wages and other serious violations.”

Hall's research into the activities of Natural Fruit were if anything especially damning. Many of the overwhelmingly migrant workforce reported having their passports confiscated. All the workers interviewed reported receiving a wage less than the local minimum wage. Discrimination against the migrant workers was rampant, and workplace conditions were dangerous.

“The findings of the report are alarming and must be addressed without delay,” Finnwatch concluded.

In June, the US State Department published its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, in which it downgraded the human trafficking performance of Thailand to Tier 3, the worst ranking available. Thailand has been ruled by a military junta since May, and the owner of Natural Fruit is reported to be the brother of a high-ranking official in the government.

“After the initial data collection stages were complete, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. has been given the opportunity, time and space to respond to these allegations of abuse at its factory by allowing Finnwatch, researchers or media to enter its premises and inspect conditions or interview workers regarding the allegations,” Hall stated in August. “Generally, Natural Fruit Company Ltd., in contrast to all other companies I have engaged in the past, has not taken this course of action to demonstrate its lawful conduct or provide evidence to refute accusations made against it to me or others such as Finnwatch.”

Instead of engagement, Natural Fruit decided to file a lawsuit against Hall for defamation, bringing a total of six civil and criminal charges against the activist. If convicted of these charges, Hall could face up to eight years in prison and a $10 million fine. The charges were filed on the basis of an Al Jazeera interview about conditions in the factory. The trial got underway in Thailand this week.

More than 300,000 people have signed online petitions calling on Natural Fruit to drop its charges against Hall. In addition, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center reports, “Over 100 organizations around the world appealed to members of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA) to urge its fellow member Natural Fruit to drop the cases filed against researcher, activist and human rights defender Andy Hall.”

In a statement preceding the opening of the trial, Hall wrote, “The increasingly high-profile nature of the judicial harassment against me has proven to be beneficial in contributing to achieving more effectively just those goals of increased rights and access to justice for migrants in Thailand that I have worked hard to achieve for so many years.”

 

 
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