Support activist’s fight for human rights in Thai food industry

1 September 2014

Human rights defender Andy Hall tells Fairfood of his legal battles with Thai company Natural Fruit

Andy Hall is a 34 year old British human rights defender and researcher who stands up for migrant workers in Thailand who work in many of the country’s export-oriented industries, such as the shrimp industry, one of the global food ‘hotspots’ Fairfood has identified . In 2013, he contributed to a report by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch that alleged serious labour rights abuses at several companies, including Thai company Natural Fruit. Rather than investigating the abuses, Natural Fruit chose to prosecute Hall for defamation.

Fairfood is concerned that the charges brought against Andy Hall may deter others from exposing labour and human rights violations in Thai exporting industries. Therefore, Fairfood International calls upon Natural Fruit & the Thai government to drop the charges against Andy Hall. Furthermore, Fairfood calls upon food and beverage companies to ensure that labour and human rights are respected throughout their supply chains. If you wish to support Andy Hall, you can do so by calling upon the Thai Ministry of Labour and Natural Fruit to drop the charges against Andy Hall:

Or you can support by donating to his legal fund:

Andy shared his view on the dire situation in the Thai food industry and the legal harassment he has faced with Fairfood. Read his story below:

For almost 3 decades, Thailand’s export orientated economy has been dependent on millions of overseas migrants, particularly from Myanmar and Cambodia. These generally impoverished low skilled workers fled from military dictatorships or economic stagnation. They make up at least 10% of the labour market in Thailand, if not more. Increasingly these vulnerable workers make up the majority of workers in low skilled labour intensive food export and other industries.

Exploitation of migrants by employers, officials and brokers is widespread and systematic in Thailand. Migrants are generally silent in the face of abuse and oppression. To stand up and defend their rights, to fight for better conditions, would risk their lives. Abuse experienced by migrants in Thailand extends to many export markets. Consumers across the world should be increasingly aware of this.

I have been working in Thailand for a decade now. During this time, I tried to empower and defend migrant workers, particularly from Myanmar. One of my greatest achievements so far, is that I supported the founding and growth of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), a Myanmar worker funded and managed migrant organization.

Until now, I never faced many problems in my work. However, this situation changed after the launch of a Finnwatch report on working conditions in Thai tuna and pineapple processing factories that exported to Finland. Although I only researched the report and did not publish it, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. decided to harass me over the report and its findings. I was an easy target as I live in the region.

Natural Fruit Company Ltd. filed four criminal and civil prosecutions against me since 2013 and the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA), whose president owns Natural Fruit, threatened with more prosecutions after an international solidarity campaign. The first criminal trial in these cases, together carrying a maximum prison sentence of 8 years and a US$10m damages claim, starts on 2nd September 2014. My life and work were severely influenced by Natural Fruit Company’s private actions. I was detained in a cell prior to being granted bail and my passport was confiscated by the Court, thereby restricting my movements. Now the Thai government and courts formally will decide my fate.

The past few weeks have shown me however that I am not alone in my campaign to address migrant conditions in Thailand, whatever may happen. Consumer groups, trade unions and rights groups have used the high profile nature of the judicial harassment against me as a means of increasing awareness of consumers and importers of Thai products on the systematic nature of migrant exploitation in Thailand. It’s time for change in Thailand, and it’s time for consumers, purchasers and retailers to take a stand against abuse of workers, particularly migrants. It’s time for Thai industry to face the reality of the situation, address challenges they face, weed out bad guys and promote the good guys.’