Labor activist to face criminal charges in Natural Fruit trial set for Sept.
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Labor activist to face criminal charges in Natural Fruit trial set for Sept.

Labor rights activist Andy Hall’s nasty battle with the Natural Fruits Company continues to drag on. On Wednesday, Prakanong Court set the date for a criminal defamation case against Hall to go to trial Sept. 2, according to Phuketwan. The corporation initiated legal action against Hall after he worked with a Finnish rights group to expose poor labor conditions in Natural Fruits’ factory. Hall’s report included interviews with Burmese workers employed in the Thai factory, and was compiled for Finnwatch.

The report, Cheap Has a High Price, included “in-depth interviews with … the workers of the factories – the majority of whom are migrants from neigbouring countries” who “– “described the use of forced and child labour, unlawfully low wages, excessive overtime, abuse by managers and unsafe working conditions,” according to Finnwatch. The full report examined conditions at three companies: Natural Fruit, and Thai Union Manufacturing and Unicord. The latter two are involved in the tuna industry.

Natural Fruits’ most recent charge against Hall is a criminal defamation suit regarding an interview he did with Al Jazeera. Previous charges were made under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act and civil defamation laws. Marta Kasztelan reported for Asian Correspondent in 2013 that if he is found guilty, Hall faces seven years in prison and could be forced to pay $10m in damages.

Hall plead not guilty at the July 2 hearing, according to his website. A post published July 3 stated, “Despite long talk with judges on legality, they refused to allow Hall to keep his passport because as a ‘foreigner’ he was a flight risk. No case specific reason but their general practice.” In a June 30 statement from his site, Hall said: “No meaningful negotiation is likely to occur on 2nd July unless Natural Fruit agrees to drop all charges against me. I have done nothing wrong and welcome the courts deliberations on this case, its consideration of all the evidence, and expect to be found not guilty of all charges against me.”

Hall has listed Burmese political leader and icon Aung San Suu Kyi, “government ministers, migrant leaders, academics, rights activists, industry leaders,” and his PhD supervisor as witnesses in the case.

A press statement posted on Hall’s site June 30 stated,

The British Embassy in Bangkok has provided no recent assistance to Hall despite numerous requests and the UK governments recently strengthened human rights defenders policies to be implemented stringently by overseas missions. The UK Government did not send officials to assist Hall during his formal arraignment and detention nor to previous police station interrogations of which they were aware. The Consul at the Bangkok Embassy advised Hall confiscation of passports by Thai courts was usual practice to which they would generally not interfere.

However, Phuketwan reported that officials from the British and Finnish embassies attended the July 2 hearing.