New blow against labour activist in Thai fruit case

ARTICLE | 28 March 2018

A Bangkok court has ordered labour rights activist Andy Hall to pay 10 million Thai baht, equivalent to around 259,000 euro, in damages to a Thai company, on charges of defamation. The ruling is a blow to human rights defenders and the civil society worldwide. 

The court decision on March 26 is the latest development in the Natural Fruit vs Andy Hall case that was initiated five years ago. The verdict relates to an Al Jazeera interview from April 2013. Hall, a British expert on migrant worker rights, had conducted research which contributed to a report published by Finnwatch, a Finnish NGO monitoring business and human rights issues, the same year.

“The ruling is a devastating blow for human rights defenders and exposes the restrictions on the freedom of expression in Thailand and the shrinking space for those who work on business and human rights issues”, comments Alice Blondel, Director at Swedwatch.

The report by Finnwatch alleged abuse of Burmese migrant workers’ rights at the Thai company Natural Fruit’s pineapple facilities in Thailand. The company claims that the report and Hall’s interview damaged its business. Since the report was published, the company has filed several defamation suits against Hall.

In 2016, Hall was sentenced to three years suspended prison time and fines in another defamation suit in the Natural Fruit case. Late that year, Hall left Thailand after another Thai company, poultry farm Thammakaset, filed a lawsuit against him in a case that is still ongoing.

“Reprisals against those who highlight the exploitation of the most vulnerable is increasing and this dangerous trend must cease. Companies sourcing from Thailand should work to address the specific human rights risks associated with shrinking civic space”, says Alice Blondel.

The court ruling on March 26 coincided with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights’ visit to Thailand, as the nation is in the process of developing a National Action Plan on business and human rights.

According to a statement on Andy Hall’s website, the decision will be appealed.