On Wednesday 29 October 2014, Fairfood International, together with ILRF in Washington DC (USA), Finnwatch in Helsinki (FI) and the TUC, SumOfUs, and Walk Free in London, will coordinate protests in front of their respective country’s Thai Embassy in support of Andy Hall. This British human rights defender is facing over $10 million in fines and up to seven years in Thai prison for uncovering widespread abuse of workers in the Thai food industry, after one of the companies investigated – Thai pineapple processor Natural Fruit Co. Ltd – filed civil and criminal charges against him.
Journalists, civil society organisations and others interested parties are invited to join the demonstration in front of the Thai Embassy in The Hague, Laan Copes van Cattenburch 123 on Wednesday 29 October 2014, from 10:00 to 12:00.
The Ambassador of Thailand has been invited to receive us, so Fairfood can hand over a letter on behalf of NGOs from across the globe. In this letter, we are asking the Thai government to investigate the serious breaches of human and workers’ rights within Thai food and beverage companies. Andy Hall uncovered poor working conditions, unlawfully low wages, confiscation of official documents, child labour and excessive overtime. We are also asking the Thai government to stop abuses of its legal system that allows companies to repress criticism by filing SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) suits in the criminal courts.
Since it is also Andy Hall’s birthday on the day of his trial, we will offer the ambassador a pineapple upside-down birthday cake to symbolise the current state of imbalance, where one man highlighting human rights abuses is being persecuted, while the powerful company doing so – Natural Fruit Co Ltd. – is being defended. We will be asking the Thai government to give Andy the best possible present, by addressing this imbalance in power and investigating the real and serious claims that were made in the report “Cheap Has a High Price”.
Activists should be able to investigate human rights abuses. Free speech is necessary to hold governments and companies accountable. This protest is part of an International Day of Action, to defend the right to free speech and highlight the importance of investigating and highlighting human and workers’ rights abuses wherever they happen without the fear of prohibitively expensive lawsuits and criminal proceedings that could well result in jail. It is the obligation of NGOs to vigorously defend these rights, which is why we are taking this demonstration seriously.
About Natural Fruit and SLAPP tactics
Natural Fruit instigated the lawsuits at the beginning of 2013. In total, Andy is being prosecuted in four defamation cases, both civil and criminal. Fairfood is concerned that the charges brought against Andy Hall may deter others from exposing labour and human rights violations in Thai exporting industries. Furthermore, this is clearly a case of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Companies have increasingly been using such lawsuits as a means to prevent public criticism of their practices and intimidate those seeking to expose such practices. This is because the cost of fighting such lawsuits is often so high that only a wealthy company has the resources to pay for this (and if they win they are reimbursed their costs), whereas an average citizen mostly does not. In this case, it is particularly telling that the charges were filed against an individual and not the commissioning NGO. Natural fruit clearly want to send the message that public criticism of them in Thailand will not be tolerated and that if anyone dares to step out of line, they will be sued civilly or, worse still, face criminal charges that could result in jail time.
The Thai government, rather than investigating reports of serious breaches of human and workers’ rights in Thai companies, also try to repress dissent by allowing the criminal courts to be used in such a way. This predates the current military government, although such dissent is commonplace in countries where democratically elected governments do not exist.
To read more about Andy Hall, read the guest blog he published on this website on 1 September 2014.