Prosecution of British Human Rights Worker a National Embarrassment for Thailand, Say Critics

 | Fri 18 Jul 2014 23:31 ICT

CityNews – Thailand is currently “on trial” for allowing a company to prosecute British human rights worker Andy Hall over claims of modern-day slavery in its factories, critics say.

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 in trials set to begin in Bangkok next week. Some of the charges carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

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 NGO Finnwatch.

The report exposed the trafficking of migrant workers along with the use of child labour, forced overtime and violence against employees.

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

He is supported by human rights organisations, trade unions and some within the processed food industry. His bail of 50,000 baht was paid for by the Thai Tuna Industry Association and the Thai Frozen Food Association.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Hall, who described the legal action as “a no-win situation” for the company. “They [Natural Fruit] don’t know anything about me and they don’t know that I have essentially spent ten years of my life fighting for better rights for migrants … I think they lost face, but they are just shooting themselves in the foot. If they lose, they will look stupid. If they win, the country is going to lose and the industry is going to lose.”

Among Hall’s backers is the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which is demanding that the charges against him are dropped.

“Andy Hall’s investigations into the fruit and fish industries in Thailand helped expose shocking abuses there to a worldwide audience,” said acting general secretary Steve Cotton. “He should be praised, not prosecuted. Thailand’s attorney-general must act now to disallow this case, which is an example of blatant victimisation of someone for no greater crime than telling an unacceptable truth.”

ITF president Paddy Crumlin added: “Thailand itself is on trial. Its failure to act has rightly led to it being downgraded by the US government over human trafficking. If ever a country needed to allow defenders of human rights to identify problems, it’s this one. This impending trial is a national and international embarrassment, and should be called off immediately.”

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.