Outcry against Natural Fruit case grows as labor activist’s Thailand trial loomsBy Casey Hynes Sep 01, 2014 2:16PM UTC
The international outcry demanding that charges against activist Andy Hall be dropped is increasing ahead of his trials. Hall faces trials for criminal defamation and charges under the Computer Crimes Act. The defamation trial begins Sept. 2. Thai company Natural Fruit is suing Hall after he went public with his research findings on the conditions and treatment of migrant workers in Natural Fruit’s factory. Representatives of the Finnish and British embassies are expected to attend the trial.
The organization Sum of Us called on Dole 0 one of the world’s leading fruit companies and a TPIA member – to pressure the TPIA to help get the case against Hall dropped.
“Dole could use its influence to push for the charges to be dropped — but so far it has stood silent,” the organization said in a statement.
“Dole is a massive consumer facing brand and can’t afford to be associated with a company that silences its opponents by threatening jail sentences,” Sum of Us also wrote.
Rights groups from around the world have condemned Natural Fruit and urged the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA) to intervene. A coalition of groups demanded that Wirat Piyanpornpaiboon, owner of Natural Fruit, be removed from his position as president of the TPIA.
TPIA refused to get involved in the case and said the issue between Hall and Natural Fruit is a “personal” one. The organization issued a letter, signed by General Secretary Nirut Ruplek, in response to the one sent by rights groups. TPIA said that because there had been no official signatures on the letter, there was “no legitimacy and morality in this issued letter that is making allegations against others without any logical sense.” The TPIA also insinuated that it might take further legal action against Hall:
The letter that TPIA’s members have now received, when combined with news that TPIA
has followed including the media interviews of Mr. Andy Hall, illustrates Mr. Andy
Hall’s behaviour is in bad faith with an intention to destroy Thailand’s economic system
and severely impact negatively on business owners. If Mr. Hall insists in continuing to
behave in this manner, businesses affected by Mr. Andy Hall’s allegations made without
fact will coordinate together to prosecute him further in Thailand’s Courts of Justice.
Hall vehemently denies the claims that he intends to hurt Thai businesses or the Thai economy. He defended his record as an advocate for human rights and affirmed he had not initiated the letter sent to TPIA calling for the ouster of its leader.
A number of rights groups have issued statements calling for the case to be dropped and on TPIA to do something, though that seems an unlikely option.
The Ethical Trading Initiative said in a statement: “We believe that a process of constructive engagement would be a more effective way to address allegations of serious labour rights abuses, rather than recourse to litigation. International consumers are ever more concerned about the providence of products they consume. The onus is on the Thai industry to be able to demonstrate that their pineapples are produced under conditions that meet international standards.”
Walk Free said: “If this case proceeds and Natural Fruit are successful this would not only be a grave miscarriage of justice for Andy Hall. This process could set a dangerous precedent for other companies in Thailand that might take a similar approach when allegations are raised of modern slavery in their supply chains. This threatens the work of anti-slavery campaigners but also workers in Thailand who might be too afraid to come forward and report abuse.”
The Trades Union Congress initiated an online petition to demand that Natural Fruit, TPIA, and the Thai Ministry of Labor put an end to the legal action against Hall.
International rights workers hope that the high profile nature of Hall’s case will help force Western buyers to do their due diligence on Thai companies before working with them. Sonja Vartiala, Finnwatch’s executive director, said in an interview with Asian Correspondent in August that organization hopes to see the EU implement laws that require buyers to investigate suppliers from “risk countries” to ensure they are working with businesses that are not exploiting workers.
Finnwatch quoted European buyer United Nordic, a coalition of food companies, as saying, “We are greatly worried and concerned… We believe this development can further hurt the Thai food industry.” Finnwatch added, “The buyer urged industry to ‘actively promote engagement of constructive dialogue with organisations and civil society, as opposed to taking legal action.'”
Hall had been working with Finnish NGO Finnwatch on their report Cheap has a high price and announced the findings in Bangkok when Natural Fruit did not respond to allegations of workers being mistreated.
Hall has said that there is a positive aspect to his ordeal, which is that he and other rights workers and organizations have used it to raise awareness of the plight of migrant workers in Thailand expose the abuses and exploitation in the system.