International unions put weight behind Thai fruit case
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has sent a letter to Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, expressing "serious concern" over lawsuits brought by tropical fruit processor Natural Fruit against British human rights lawyer Andy Hall.
The ITUC represents more than 174 million workers in 156 countries and territories. Click here for more background on the issue, which has also brought requests to the government from the State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC).
ITUC also called on authorities to ensure the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under international law in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand has been a state party since 1996.
"The human rights defender is accused of defaming and damaging the company by "broadcasting false statements to public media", following the publication of a report in January 2013 which he co-authored and researched," the letter said.
"We have been informed that the trial is set to take place on 10 April 2013, while evidence would be heard on 28 April. If convicted, Andy Hall faces a fine of 300 million Baht (approximately EUR 7.7 million)."
The letter also mentioned the additional lawsuit filed against Hall for broadcasting false statements. If found guilty on these charges Hall could be imprisoned for two years.
The ITUC said the report "Cheap has a price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand", involved testimonies from employees working in various departments of Natural Fruit's Pranburi plant.
"The interviews were carried out in secret, as workers feared acts of reprisal following their participation in the research," the letter said.
"Despite being approached by Finnwatch and Andy Hall on numerous occasions, the Natural Fruit Company did not agree to meet with the researchers or contribute to the report," the ITUC said.
"The only contact Andy Hall had with the company was during the launch of the report at the offices of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT), when an individual who introduced himself as a representatives of the Natural Fruit Company approached him."
The ITUC alleged the legal actions were an attempt to "silence human rights defenders in Thailand who, peacefully and legitimately, exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in order to defend and promote human rights".
"We hereby express our serious concern with the lawsuits filed against Andy Hall as the charges are based solely on legitimate human rights work, in particular his research and co-authoring of the above mentioned report," the letter said.
In an email, Andy Hall told www.freshfruitportal.com he was experiencing a "very difficult time" and was currently in Myanmar. He indicated he would defend himself in the case.
Photo: Flickr, ECohen