Labour rights activist charged by Thai court

  • 24/08/2015
(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

A Thai court has charged a British labour rights activist over a report he co-wrote alleging labour abuses in Thailand's food industry, a key supplier to Western supermarkets.

Andy Hall, 34, had previously been acquitted by a court last year on a defamation charge pursued by Thailand's attorney-general.

But Natural Fruit, the company at the heart of the dispute, has filed a string of its own criminal and civil cases against Hall, the most serious of which was accepted.

"We have learnt that the Southern Criminal Court has agreed to hear the case against Andy Hall for defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act," Hall's defence lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat told AFP.

Hall has been ordered to appear in court on 19 October for a plea hearing, Nakhon added, with the court expected to decide today whether he gets bail.

The labour activist, who is based in Thailand, faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.

Both Thailand's criminal defamation and computer misuse laws have been criticised by rights groups for their broad wording and the ease with which they can be used to stifle investigative work.

Hall co-wrote a 2013 report centred on working conditions at a Natural Fruit factory in southern Thailand levelling accusations of forced and child labour, unlawfully low wages and long hours.

Titled Cheap Has a High Price and published by the Finnish civil rights group Finnwatch, the report redoubled scrutiny of Thailand's food industry which has faced years of allegations of mistreatment of its mainly migrant labour force.

Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market, has denied the allegations in Hall's report and launched a raft of court cases against the Briton, including a civil case seeking US$10 million (NZ$15.1 million) in damages.

Hall stands by his research and has accused the company of trying to detract from the report's damning findings through legal action.

"I am confident of being cleared of all these ridiculous charges," Hall told AFP after the indictment, adding "this is plain and simple judicial harassment."