Calls Grow for Charges Against British Activist to be Dropped

 | Fri 8 Aug 2014 22:25 ICT

CityNews – Nearly 100 international labour and human rights groups today sent a joint letter to members of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association, calling for charges against British activist Andy Hall to be dropped.

Andy Hall with Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hall, who is based in Bangkok but previously lived in Chiang Mai for five years, faces a number of civil and criminal defamation cases after exposing serious labour abuses in a tinned fruit factory.

Some of the charges carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison, and Hall could be ordered to pay about $9.5 million in damages if found guilty. The trial is scheduled to begin in September.

The cases were brought against Hall by Thailand’s Natural Fruit Company following his research into its operations for a report titled Cheap Has a High Price, published by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch.

The report exposed the trafficking of migrant workers along with the use of child labour, forced overtime and violence against employees at its factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

“I didn’t write the report, I simply did the research,” Hall told CityNews last month. “This is what the workers said when I interviewed them, it’s not a personal opinion.”

The letter was signed by representatives of groups from more than 20 countries, as well as international organisations including Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice.

It calls for Natural Fruit chief executive officer Wirat Piyapornpaiboon to be removed as president of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association, and for Natural Fruit’s membership of the group to be revoked if it refuses to drop the case.

“Harassment of activists like Andy Hall, who stand up for the rights of workers, is an unacceptable assault on labour rights and freedom of speech,” said Abby McGill, campaigns director for the International Labor Rights Forum. “These charges, which were cited in Thailand’s recent downgrade in the State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, demonstrate how the Thai government and industry work together to silence criticism and cover up migrant worker exploitation, rather than deal with the systemic problems that allow it to continue.”

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress, added: “Vulnerable workers need people like Andy Hall – working with trade unions in Thailand and internationally – to stand up against exploitation and abuse. We need to be free from harassment and victimisation so we can protect working people from corporate greed and government inaction. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

There was strong support for Hall from within Thailand, too. “We are the workers, we are united. We will strongly defend for the rights of our migrant brothers and sisters and those who work for the workers’ rights,” said Komsan Tongsiri, general secretary of Thailand’s State Enterprises Worker’s Relations Confederation.

Hall works as an independent consultant on migration issues, but previously worked at the Migrant Justice Programme and the MAP Foundation in Chiang Mai, researching the conditions faced by migrant workers throughout the region. More information on the legal cases against him is available on his website.