Andy Hall in jail in Thailand during his long court case.
Andy Hall’s conviction in Thailand a blow to free speech & workers’ rights
On Monday 20 September, British-born migrant and labour rights activist Andy Hall was found guilty on charges of criminal defamation by a court in Bangkok, Thailand, and sentenced to a three year suspended jail sentence and a fine of just over £3,000 (but there are further charges to come which amount to millions.) His crime was revealing the abuse of migrant workers’ rights at a pineapple canning plant, but there is much more at stake than one case. Already, another abusive employer in Thailand is planning similar legal action.
What Andy and his colleagues in the migrant Burmese community and the Thai trade union movement have been doing is exposing how Thailand’s worst employers behave, and persuading western companies and progressive Thai employers to demand better. Because of that he has become a target for bad employers and the government who want to deter him – and more importantly others like him and the migrants and workers themselves – from making their complaints.
That’s why the tripartite Ethical Trading Initiative expressed serious concerns about the verdict. ETI’s Nick Kightley wrote that:
“Andy Hall has played – and continues to play – a key role in exposing issues around injustice and abuse of migrant workers. As well as potentially criminalising the research function, it could encourage a closing of corporate doors when wer are just beginning to see movement from progressive managers in local Thai companies.”
This week Andy will be in Strasbourg at the European Parliament, where a motion has been proposed deploring the judicial harassment and appalling labour conditions in the fruit-packing industry. Socialist & Democrat MEPs like Labour’s Glenis Willmott, who happens to be the MEP for Andy’s family, and Green MEPs in Finland where the organisation that commissioned Andy to help them expose bad employment practices is based, will be tabling the motion and promoting Andy’s case. Finnwatch’s Executive Director Sonja Vartiala said:
“This is a sad day for freedom of expression in Thailand. We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling.”
The Thai elite who are trying to silence Andy Hall need to be persuaded to accept that exposing bad practices will not destroy Thailand’s access to global markets but is on the contrary a necessary part of engaging in the global trading system.
The European Union’s external action service in Thailand needs to put diplomatic pressure on the Thai government, and explore the use of its trade agreement with Thailand – the UK government could also do a lot more to press the Thai government too. And companies sourcing from Thailand need to use their direct contacts with Thai employers to persuade them that this case is doing enormous harm to Thailand’s reputation in the global trading system.