International Human Rights Day: stop corporate abuse of Thailand’s courts
To mark International Human Rights Day today, 10 December, the TUC has joined 109 other civil society organisations from around the world to call on the government of Thailand to stop businesses using the courts to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and campaigners for workers’ rights. We are highlighting once again the case of British-born migrant worker rights advocate Andy Hall, who has had to flee Thailand, after a long fight, to escape the judicial onslaught.
Our letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-chaargues that Thailand’s use of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act to prosecute human rights defenders violates its international obligations and increases risk for businesses that source goods from Thailand. The letter highlights Andy’s conviction as a dangerous precedent that would make it more difficult for migrant and other workers to ensure their rights are respected.
Bangkok South Criminal Court found Hall guilty of criminal defamation on 20 September, based on a report published by Finnwatch, a Finnish organisation, that outlined allegations of serious human rights violations at a pineapple processing facility owned by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. Abby McGill, campaigns director with the US-based International Labor Rights Forum, a signatory to the letter, says:
“Already we are seeing other abusive employers follow Natural Fruit’s lead and use criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act to bring cases against migrant workers who speak out when trapped in illegal working conditions. These laws have a dangerous chilling effect and punish victims for seeking remedy, rather than those who commit crimes against them.”
In November 2016, a Thai poultry exporter called Betagro initiated charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act against 14 workers who allege they worked in extremely exploitative conditions on a Betagro chicken farm. The company has pursued similar charges against the Migrant Workers Rights Network, a civil society organisation that helped the workers, and against Hall.
To prevent similar cases in the future, and increase confidence among international buyers that Thai goods are produced in acceptable working conditions, the letter urges the Royal Thai Government to:
- repeal the provisions in the Penal Code criminalising defamation;
- amend the Computer Crime Act to bring it into compliance with international human rights law regarding freedom of expression;
- actively and effectively implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders; and
- ratify and implement ILO Core Labour Conventions, particularly No. 87 and No. 98 on the freedom to join a union and bargain collectively.
Sonja Vartiala, Executive Director of Finnwatch, said:
”Thailand’s laws that allow for criminal punishment and even imprisonment for defamation are in clear breach of Thailand’s international human rights obligations. Instead of allowing companies to take human rights defenders to criminal courts for alleged defamation, Thailand needs to thoroughly follow through on allegations of violations of migrant workers’ rights.”
The letter’s 110 signatories include TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party Dame Glenis Willmott MEP (who just happens to be Andy Hall’s parents’ local MEP), as well as Jude Kirton-Darling MEP and several Finnish MEPs. It also includes the world’s top trade unionist, Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, leaders of the global union federations for construction (BWI), foodworkers (IUF), journalists (IFJ), manufacturers (IndustriALL), transport workers (ITF), retail and other private service workers (UNIglobal). There are national union centres from Australia, Ireland, the USA and the combined union centres of Finland and Sweden as well as many Finnish unions. And there are many other well-known organisations like Amnesty, the Ethical Trading Initiative, Greenpeace and Hazards Magazine editor Rory O’Neill.