Andy Hall. Photo: Teija Laakso / maailma.net
Defending workers’ rights defenders: Andy Hall in Thailand
I’ve blogged several times over the years about the harassment of British workers’ rights advocate Andy Hall, who faces a number of charges – some with terrifying jail terms or financial penalties if he’s found guilty – for exposing exploitation of Burmese migrants in the Thai fruit processing industry. The harassment, by a single fruit company whose owner is politically well-connected, is designed mostly to prevent others following in Andy’s footsteps, and as part of a continuing attack on workers’ and migrants’ rights in the South East Asian country.
This weekend, the TUC, Australian Council of Trade Unions and several global union bodies joined with development NGOs and human rights’ organisations to demand Thailand end harassment of researchers and human rights defenders in the run-up to the final preliminary hearing in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit against Andy, which starts today. Andy advises several Thai trade unions and they have consistently backed him, often at some risk to their own organisations.
The coalition of 30 global and national organisations – led by Finnwatch, the body that commissioned Andy to wrote the expose for which he is being charged (no charges have been filed against Finnwatch) – has written to the Thai Prime Minister, calling for the charges to be dropped, and urges the government to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their vital work without fear of “harassment, reprisals, arbitrary detention, criminal charges and unfair trials.”
Partly in reaction to Andy’s case, the US State Department downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The report recommended that Thailand cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking, and recognise the valuable role of NGOs and workers’ organisations in uncovering the nature and scope of human trafficking in Thailand.
The TUC will be following Andy’s case closely, and taking the campaign up with MPs and MEPs, and through the Ethical Trading Initiative’s members sourcing fruit from Thailand (none of them buy from the company that Andy is being sued by, but they could still influence employers in the same sector.)