Thailand’s Supreme Court delivered today the final verdict in a civil defamation and damages case filed by pineapple exporter Natural Fruit Company Ltd. against British migrant worker rights specialist and human rights defender Andy Hall.
The Supreme Court dismissed lower court rulings that Hall was guilty of defaming Natural Fruit and liable to pay the company 10 million Thai baht (approximately 265 000 euros) in damages. Importantly, the court also ruled that Hall’s research and publication of allegations in interviews and in writing concerning serious right abuses against migrant workers at Natural Fruit was both done in good faith and was accurate.
The charges in today’s civil defamation and damages case relate to an interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera English in Myanmar in 2013 in the wake of the publication of the Finnwatch report about working conditions at Natural Fruit Ltd’s pineapple factory. A related criminal case was dismissed by Thailand’s Supreme Court in 2016.
The Supreme Court cited a prior June 2020 Supreme Court ruling acquitting Hall of all criminal charges filed against him by Natural Fruit as the basis for its decision. The charges in that case related to the publication and dissemination of the Finnwatch report Cheap has a high price which alleged serious labour rights violations at Natural Fruit’s operations. Hall coordinated fieldwork and conducted worker interviews for the report.
– All cases initiated by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall are now over. While we are glad for today’s ruling, we are disillusioned by the fact that Natural Fruit has been able to carry on with these lawsuits for years. They have taken a toll on our work, said Sonja Finér, Finnwatch’s executive director.
Today marks the end to an eight year campaign of judicial harassment waged by the Thai pineapple company Natural Fruit against Hall. In 2013, the company initiated four interrelated court proceedings against him, two on criminal charges and two civil defamation cases.
Today’s dismissal verdict is dated 25th June 2020 and was delivered officially at Prakanong Court on 2nd March 2021. Due to the COVID19 situation however, Hall’s lawyers only received the official verdict transcript of the ruling at Prakanong Court this morning and immediately communicated it to Hall.
Of the altogether four cases filed by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall, all but one have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. One by one, the Supreme Court has cleared Hall of all the charges against him.
In October 2020, Natural Fruit withdrew the other civil defamation and damages claim from Nakhon Pathom Court during the opening of the proceedings. That claim dealt with the publication and dissemination of Finnwatch’s report. In its statement to the Court, Natural Fruit said it accepted the decision of the Supreme Court acquitting Hall of charges in the related criminal case.
The multiple prosecutions against Hall have attracted a lot of attention over the years. The proceedings have been criticised by the UN and the European Parliament as well as by many companies, civil society organisations and trade unions, especially for the “chilling effect” they have had on people researching working conditions in supply chains in Thailand. These organisations have called on the Thai government to introduce legal reforms to protect human rights defenders and ensure the full realisation of freedom of speech and labour rights.
– Although today’s ruling is great news, these prosecutions against Andy Hall are not isolated incidents. Powerful businesses can and are using Thailand’s courts to silence labour rights activists, journalists and other human rights defenders. This should be a concern to Thailand’s trading partners and any company doing business in Thailand, Finér added.
Hall left Thailand in 2016. Hall continues to work on migrant worker rights’ issues in South and Southeast Asia. Most recently, he has been campaigning for labour rights violations in Malaysia’s rubber glove industry.
On hearing of today’s verdict, Andy Hall commented:
“I welcome today’s ruling. But after years of ongoing judicial harassment that has taken a heavy toll on me, my family and my colleagues, this is not a victory. My activism for over a decade in Thailand was intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country. These workers continue to find themselves without a voice in high-risk situations of forced labour and subject to systemic human and labour rights violations in global supply chains.’’
‘‘I have never intended to harm any legitimate business interests through my work and have always remained genuinely open to reconciliation with all those who may feel aggrieved by my campaigning style, to put an end once and for all to this continuing irrational cycle of litigation against me and my colleagues.”