A Thai court in Bangkok has ordered labor rights activist Andy Hall to pay 10 million baht ($321,000) in damages for defamation.
Hall had helped expose labor abuses committed against Myanmar migrant workers at factories operated by pineapple canning company Natural Fruit. Natural Fruit retaliated by filing four defamation suits against Hall.
The Washington Post reports:
Hall’s legal troubles stem from a 2013 report he researched for the Finnish consumer organization Finnwatch that alleged labor abuses at Natural Fruit’s facilities. They also concern an interview that he gave to Al-Jazeera on the subject, which was the focus of Monday’s ruling. Natural Fruit claimed that the report Hall helped research and his interview comments both hurt their business.
Hall has prevailed in one of the two criminal defamation suits against him, while the other is pending, as is another civil suit. He has also filed a countersuit against Natural Fruit.
Hall left Thailand in 2016, citing intolerable legal harassment after another company, poultry producer Thammakaset Farm, sued him in another case, but still works on labor rights issues concerning migrants in Thailand.
After the verdict was issued, Hall expressed his disappointment on Twitter. “This verdict is a major setback for rights of human rights defenders, migrant workers, labour/migration activists and researchers everywhere and casts a dark shadow over recent positive progress the Thai government and Thai industry has made to improve migrant worker conditions.”
Thailand has been the subject of international scrutiny after major media investigations uncovered widespread human trafficking and forced labor in the country’s seafood industry. Notably, Hall had also worked with several fishing and seafood companies in Thailand to improve labor conditions for migrant workers.
Observers say Hall’s case is being closely watched by companies that source from Thailand and human rights activists.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, explained that defamation is being used as a tool by companies to silence criticism.
“When problems in their supply chain are brought to light, companies like Natural Fruit or Thammakaset Farm can so easily sue and ruin the life of an activist to try to keep them silent. It has a chilling effect on this type of research. It has a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Thailand,” he said.