“Vulnerable workers need people like Andy Hall to stand up to exploitation and abuse”


Thailand’s food industry produces goods for shops all over the world, but the industry is home to some shocking abuses of workers’ rights.

Unions and labour rights advocates have been exposing and challenging such abuses, but they face harassment and victimisation from employers who are well-connected with the warring political parties that controlled Thailand before the recent military coup.

Andy Hall is a British-born researcher and labour rights campaigner principally working in Burma and Thailand.

He works closely with unions wherever he is, and was commissioned to produce a report on the Thai Natural Fruit Company in 2012 by the Finnish NGO, Finnwatch.

He found many abuses, especially of the mostly migrant, Burmese workforce, including child labour, payments below even Thailand’s minimum wage, confiscation of migrant workers’ travel and work documents, and the failure to provide legally mandated paid sick days, holidays and leave.

He tried to discuss these issues with the company management, but they refused, and the report, Cheap Has a High Price, was published.

The company sued, and after a protracted cat-and-mouse legal game (including the Thai police trying to get Andy to sign a confession written in Thai), the case is coming to court in September.

Andy faces three criminal defamation charges, one civil defamation action, and two criminal charges under the Computer Crimes Act brought by Natural Fruit that could result in up to seven years in prison on each count and about US$9.5 million in damages.

Last weekend, the TUC and ITUC joined nearly 100 human rights NGOs and trade union organisations in 20 countries around the world in writing to all the members of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association to urge them to insist that the Thai Natural Fruit Company drop the case.

If they don’t, we’re asking the Association to expel the company and remove its CEO, Wirat Pivapornpaoboon, as chair of the Association.

Other signatories include Thai union SERC, the AFL-CIO in the US (whose Solidarity Center has worked closely with Andy over labour rights in Thailand) and the ACTU in Australia, where Andy did some of his legal training.

The letter is also backed by the global union federations covering the supply chain from Thai farms to the world’s shops: the IUF for food workers, the ITF for transport workers and UNI Global for shop workers.

Global human rights bodies like Human Rights Watch and the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) have also joined the letter which was initiated by the US-based International Labor Rights Forum and the London-based Business & Human Rights Centre.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said: “Vulnerable workers need people like Andy Hall – working with trade unions in Thailand and internationally – to stand up against exploitation and abuse.

“We need to be free from harassment and victimisation so we can protect working people from corporate greed and government inaction. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

Abby McGill, campaigns director for the International Labor Rights Forum, said: “Harassment of activists like Andy Hall, who stand up for the rights of workers, is an unacceptable assault on labor rights and freedom of speech.

“These charges, which were cited in Thailand’s recent downgrade in the [US] State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Person’s report, demonstrate how the Thai government and industry work together to silence criticism and cover up migrant worker exploitation, rather than deal with the systemic problems that allow it to continue.”