MEPs have condemned as ‘harassment’ the treatment of a British lawyer in Thailand who exposed labour abuses in the country’s lucrative fruit tinning industry.
Andy Hall is now facing up to seven years in jail on ‘defamation’ charges after helping research working conditions in the country’s pineapple sector for a Finnish NGO.
On Wednesday (13 January), Hall had his passport confiscated and a travel ban imposed ahead of a full trial next week.
British MEP, Glenis Willmott, who has raised Hall’s case in the European Parliament, and followed it closely, condemned the bail conditions as “completely unacceptable.”
Willmott said, “I have raised Andy’s case straight to the most senior foreign representative in the EU.
“The harassment that Andy has been subjected to by the Thai authorities is completely unacceptable.
“We highlighted Andy’s plight again in an urgent debate in the European Parliament and called on the Thai authorities to end this harassment immediately. Human rights are top of the EU agenda and we will continue to call for decent working rights for all workers across the globe.”
Hall carried out interviews with workers at the National Fruit Company in 2012, for a report later published by Finnwatch, an NGO based in Finland.
Although he did not author the final report, he now faces four charges of defamation – two criminal, two civil – plus charges under Thailand’s catch-all Computer Crimes Act, which carry a total of seven years in jail, plus possible damages of up to seven million euros.
Hall told EURACTIV, “I have surrendered myself to the custody of Bangkok South Criminal Court and have requested temporary release on bail pending a criminal trial. I have surrendered my liberty and freedom of movement to the Thai justice system.
“Not only a researcher but also the justice system is on trial. Undertaking research on migrant worker conditions and seeking to strengthen migration policy and the rule of law in Thailand should not be a crime.”
A full trial will commence at Bangkok South Criminal Court on 18 January. On Wednesday, Hall had his passport confiscated and a travel ban imposed, despite his lawyers arguing he had lived in Thailand 11 years and posed no risk of fleeing.
Hall has indicated he will plead ‘not guilty’ to all charges. His 300,000 baht (7,650 euros) bail was met by FinnWatch, the Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA) and Thai Union Group.
Hall added, “I am determined to continue my important work to promote and protect migrant rights despite this ongoing harassment.”
According to Hall’s lawyers, National Fruit are not suing Finnwatch itself, nor have responded to allegations made in the report.
Finnwatch is a Helsinki-based NGO focussed on global impacts of Finnish business enterprises.
At the time of the publication of the report, several Finnish supermarket chains were using Natural Fruit processed pineapple concentrate in their private label pineapple juice. The retailers have since stopped purchasing pineapple concentrate from Natural Fruit due to the company’s refusal to let independent auditors visit their processing plant to assess worker conditions.
>>Read: MEPs condemn Thai junta
As well as being cited by several MEPs during last year’s emergency debate on Thailand in Strasbourg, Hall’s case has been taken up by the British Trades Union Conference (TUC), which called the court case “nothing more than judicial harassment”.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “If modern slavery is to be eradicated from global supply chains, unions and campaigners must have the right to speak out. The number of court appearances Andy Hall has had to make – in none of which he has been found to have broken any laws – show that this is nothing more than judicial harassment.
“Thailand’s attorney general should be ashamed of helping bad bosses keep up their appalling practices, and the Thai government should be cracking down on slavery and trafficking, not on human rights defenders and trade unions.”
The fruit processing industry is not the only export sector of Thailand under scrutiny – conditions aboard its fishing vessels have been highlighted in numerous exposes of poor labour practices.
Separately, the EU is mulling a total ban on Thai fish imports, due to its repeated flouting of regulations on “Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported” (IUU) fishing. A decision on whether to upgrade the current ‘yellow card’ to a ‘red card’ – which would force the ban on the world’s third-largest fish exporter – is expected soon.
Since the military coup in May 2014, which saw General Prayuth Chan-ocha seize power, the EU has indefinitely suspended negotiations on a planned Free Trade Agreement with Thailand, while the country has come under sustained criticism from Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists for its clampdown on media freedoms.
In December, even the US Ambassador was reported to the police for allegedly breaking the country’s expansive ‘lese-majeste’ laws which outlaw any criticism of the Thai monarchy.