To have all charges dropped against migrant workers’ rights activist Andy Hall, who was sued by Thai pineapple company Natural Fruit in February 2013 for civil and criminal defamation, as well as violations of the Computer Crimes Act. The lawsuits stemmed from the “Cheap has a High Price” report published by NGO Finnwatch, which Andy Hall contributed to, documenting forced labor and other labor rights offenses by Natural Fruit. This included confiscating workers’ passports and identity papers, paying wages below the legal minimum wage, requiring employees to work excessive hours without adequate pay, and physical abuse from superiors.
Andy Hall faced an arduous, lengthy legal battle with Natural Fruit as he faced an onslaught of charges and harassment. Not only did Natural Fruit initially file suits in February 2013 – they filed another set of criminal and civil defamation lawsuits against him in July 2013 based on an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera in June 2013. In defense of Andy Hall as an activist rightly documenting cases of forced labor in Thailand, Freedom United campaigned to have all of the charges brought by Natural Fruit dropped against him by petitioning the Thai Attorney General, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice.
Andy Hall’s legal battle with Natural Fruit spanned eight years, finally coming to a close on May 11, 2021 when the Supreme Court of Thailand cleared him of all charges in the last remaining case brought against him by Thai pineapple company Natural Fruit. However, seeking justice wasn’t easy, as Andy Hall faced relentless harassment and intimidation that ultimately led him to leave Thailand. As Hall noted in a 2017 interview with Freedom United, “This is about persecution. It’s a political case to try and silence me…I’m someone that’s revealing things that the government and the industry don’t want me to reveal.”
Timeline of events:
Finnwatch report and criminal defamation and computer crimes claims:
In August 2015, the Bangkok South Criminal Court accepted the case against Andy Hall, beginning the trial for the lawsuit brought by Natural Fruit in February 2013 over criminal defamation and computer crimes tied to the Finnwatch report. In January 2016, Andy Hall was indicted and pled not guilty. Later that year in September 2016, the Bangkok South Criminal Court found him guilty, sentencing him to four years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Thai Baht. His sentence was subsequently reduced to a three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 150,000 Thai Baht, which was paid for by Hall’s allies at Thai Union Group, the Thai Tuna Industry Association, and Finnwatch.
In December 2016, Natural Fruit appealed, demanding that Andy Hall be taken into custody immediately despite that fact that he no longer resided in Thailand. On April 28, 2018, the South Criminal Court of Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for Andy Hall, summoning him to hear the Appeal Court’s verdict on May 31, 2018. The Appeals Court overturned the verdict by the court of first instance, ruling that he had not acted unlawfully and that it was possible that labor rights violations had occurred at Natural Fruit’s factory, adding that his research was done in the public interest. Natural Fruit appealed the Appeal’s Court ruling, sending the case to the Supreme Court.
Finally, on June 30, 2020 the Supreme Court acquitted Andy Hall of all criminal defamation and computer crimes charged filed against him, upholding the 2018 Appeal’s Court verdict.
Al-Jazeera interview and criminal and civil defamation claim:
In June 2013, Andy Hall gave an interview to Al-Jazeera while in Myanmar. Upon its release, Natural Fruit filed a lawsuit against him for criminal and civil defamation. In October 2014, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the criminal defamation charge related to the Al-Jazeera interview. Natural Fruit and the Office of the Attorney General appealed the decision, but in September 2016 the Appeal’s Court affirmed the dismissal.
This did not stop Natural Fruit and the Office of the Attorney General, however, as they subsequently appealed to send the case to the Supreme Court. In November 2016, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, upholding the lower court’s ruling that the investigation had not been done properly and that Thai courts had no jurisdiction in this case because the alleged offense took place during an interview in Myanmar.
In November 2016, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the civil defamation lawsuit arguing that it lacked jurisdiction, which Natural Fruit appealed. In August 2017, the Appeal’s Court reversed the decision, ordering the Provincial Court to proceed with the trial. On March 26, 2018, the court ruled against Andy Hall, ordering him to pay 10 million Thai Baht in damages to Natural Fruit Company. Hall appealed on September 6, 2018, but on May 22, 2019, the Phra Khanong Court rejected his appeal and upheld the 10 million Thai Baht ruling. Andy Hall appealed and the case was sent to the Supreme Court.
Finally, on May 11, 2021 Thailand’s Supreme Court delivered the final verdict in a civil defamation and damages case filed by pineapple exporter Natural Fruit Company Ltd. against 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.
Andy Hall’s counter-lawsuits:
In May 2017, Andy Hall filed a counter-lawsuit against nine state prosecutors and a police official for wrongful and malicious conduct. He claimed their investigation into the defamation case connected to the Al-Jazeera interview violated Thai law. However, the case was dismissed on October 19, 2017 by the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases and again in July 2018 by the Appeals Court.
Andy Hall also filed a counter-suit against three Natural Fruit executives and an attorney employed by Natural Fruit for allegedly filing a false criminal defamation claim over the Al-Jazeera interview. On October 25, 2017, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court indicted two of the Natural Fruit executives and dismissed the charges for the other defendants.
Actions taken by Freedom United:
The first campaign was launched in 2014, gathering 209,589 actions calling on Natural Fruit to drop all charges against Andy Hall and investigate modern slavery in their business. Natural Fruit refused to drop the charges or conduct an investigation.
So, on August 19, 2015 Freedom United launched our campaign calling on the Thai authorities to drop the charges against Andy Hall and to call for all pending cases to be dropped in tandem with our partners, Trades Union Congress, Burma Campaign UK, the International Labor Rights Forum, and Finnwatch.
Since then, we gathered nearly 137,500 petition signatures from our community around the world, significantly raising the profile of his case internationally.
Actions taken by Freedom United during this campaign:
- In June 2016, we sent 9 letters to the Thai ambassadors at the Thailand embassies in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom, which expressed our concern over the prosecution of Andy Hall as it sets a dangerous precedent for anti-slavery activists in Thailand. We received responses from the Thai ambassadors in Australia and Italy, who stated that the Thai government could not intervene in Andy Hall’s case as it would entail judicial interference. They also stated that human rights defenders were protected under Thai law and that the government was working improve the situation for migrant workers in the country.
- In July 2016, we organized a Thunderclap to #FreeAndyHall, mobilizing the Freedom United community to get his case trending on social media.
- In July 2016, we compiled video testimonies from 9 Freedom United supporters around the world, speaking to why they believed the charges against Andy Hall should be dropped.
- In March 2017, we wrote to the Thai ambassador in the United Kingdom, reiterating the chilling effect Andy Hall’s prosecution was having on the reporting of forced labor and modern slavery in Thailand and requesting an opportunity to meet with the ambassador to deliver our petition signatures.
- On December 10, 2016, Freedom United joined a coalition to send a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, arguing that the conviction of Andy Hall would make it more difficult for migrant workers to ensure their rights are respected.
- In March 2018, following the ruling ordering Andy Hall to pay damages totaling 10 million Thai Baht, the Freedom United community came together to help raise money to cover his legal fees in appealing the verdict.
The Supreme Court’s decision on May 11, 2021 to clear Andy Hall of the last remaining civil defamation and damages, as well as the court’s ruling on June 30, 2020 to acquit him for criminal defamation and computer crimes offenses, was welcome news. However, the lengthy legal battle shows just how far some companies are willing to go to silence activists who expose modern slavery.
Hall’s case even attracted the attention of UN human rights experts, who criticized the lawsuits brought against him, saying that they were an example of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). SLAPPs related to defamation have been increasingly used in recent years in Thailand by companies linked to forced labor and labor rights violations as a means to silence critics.
In response to the Supreme Court’s final ruling on May 11, 2021 Andy Hall said in a press release:
“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.”