Natural Fruit Company lawsuits (re defamation suits against Andy Hall, Thailand)

In February 2013, Natural Fruit Company (“Natural Fruit”) filed the first of several lawsuits against migrant rights activist Andy Hall, alleging criminal and civil Andy_Halldefamation, as well as violation of Thailand’s computer crimes laws.  Natural Fruit’s allegations are based on Mr. Hall’s contribution to a Finnwatch report titled “Cheap has a High Price”.  This report claimed that a variety of Natural Fruit’s employment practices violated the human rights of its workers, including confiscating workers’ passports and identity papers, paying wages below the legal minimum wage, requiring employees to work excessive hours without adequate pay and physical abuse from superiors.  Natural Fruit rejected Finnwatch’s findings, and claimed it suffered reputational harm in Thailand and abroad.  In July 2013, Natural Fruit filed another set of criminal and civil lawsuits against Mr. Hall for allegedly defaming the company during an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera in June 2013 while in Myanmar.  Natural Fruit acted as a joint prosecutor in the criminal case against Mr. Hall.

Al-Jazeera Interview Criminal and Civil Defamation Claim

In October 2014, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the criminal defamation charge related to the Al-Jazeera interview against Mr. Hall.  In January 2015, Natural Fruit and the Office of the Attorney General appealed this decision.  In September 2015, the Appeals Court affirmed the dismissal.  In January 2016, both the Office of the Attorney General and Natural Fruit appealed the decision to the Thai Supreme Court.  The dismissal was affirmed by the Thai Supreme Court in November 2016, upholding the lower court’s findings that the proper investigation procedure had not been followed and that Thai courts did not have jurisdiction because the alleged defamation took place in Myanmar.

In November 2016, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the civil defamation lawsuit arguing that it lacked jurisdiction.  Natural Fruit appealed the decision, and in August 2017 the Appeals Court reversed the decision and ordered the Phra Khanong Provincial Court to proceed with the trial.  On 26 March 2018, the court ruled against Andy Hall ordering him to pay THB 10 million (USD 321,000) in damages to Natural Fruit Company.  Andy Hall appealed the decision.  The case is ongoing.

Finnwatch Report Criminal Defamation and Computer Crimes Claims

In August 2015, the Bangkok South Criminal Court accepted the charges and began the trial against Mr. Hall for the February 2013 criminal defamation and computer crimes lawsuits related to his involvement in the Finnwatch report.  Mr. Hall faced a maximum of seven years imprisonment.  In January 2016, Mr. Hall was indicted and pled not guilty.  In September 2016, the Bangkok South Criminal Court issued a guilty verdict, and sentenced Mr. Hall to four years in prison and a fine of 200,000 baht (approximately USD 6000).  The sentence was subsequently reduced to three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 150,000 baht, (approximately USD 4700) which was paid for by the Thai Union Group, Thai Tuna Industry Association, and Finnwatch.  Natural Fruit appealed this verdict in December 2016 demanding Mr. Hall’s immediate custody, which raises the issue of enforcement of Thai Court orders while Mr Hall no longer resides in Thailand.  On 24 April 2018, the South Criminal Court of Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for Andy Hall ordering him to hear the Appeal Court’s verdict on 31 May 2018. On 31 May 2018, the Appeal Court dismissed the criminal defamation charges against Mr. Hall, accepting that the Finnwatch report contained information that should be made public. The computer crimes lawsuits were also dismissed.

Mr. Hall’s Counter-Lawsuits

In May 2017, Mr. Hall filed a counter-lawsuit against nine state prosecutors and a police official for wrongful and malicious conduct, claiming their investigation during the defamation case connected to the Al-Jazeera interview violated Thai law.  On October 19, 2017, the Criminal Court for Corruption and Miscounduct Cases dismissed the lawsuit.  In July 2018, the Appeals Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases upheld the October 2017 decision dismissing Andy Hall's counterclaim.  His lawyers are preparing an appeal against the dismissal to the Supreme Court of Thailand.

Mr. Hall also filed a counter-suit against three Natural Fruit executives and an attorney employed by Natural Fruit, for allegedly filing a false criminal defamation claim related to the Al-Jazeera interview.  On October 25, 2017, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court indicted two of the Natural Fruit executives, and dismissed the charges for the other defendants.  The trial is expected to be heard in March 2018.

UN Press Release

In May 2018 a group of UN human rights experts issued a statement criticizing the use of defamation legislation in Thailand to silence Andy Hall and others who report human rights abuses by businesses. The experts say the case against him is an example of increasingly used Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). They called for the Thai government to review its civil and criminal laws to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies.

 

News Articles

- “British Rights Activist Sues Thai Authorities”, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Reuters 31 May 2017
- “Thailand Court Clears U.K. Labor Activist of Defaming Fruit Company”, Mike Ives, The New York Times, 3 Nov 2016
- “Human Rights in Thailand: Andy Hall’s Legal Battle to Defend Migrant Workers”, Naomi Larsson, The Guardian, 22 Jan 2016

UN Letter to Thai Government and Thai Government’s Response
- “Response of the Thai Government”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, 19 Jan 2017
- “UN Inquiry into Andy Hall’s Thai Litigation and the Alleged Human Rights Abuses”, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 16 Nov 2016

NGO Statements

- "Thai appeals court throws out case against British rights activist", The Argus, 31 May 2018
- "Thailand: UN experts condemn use of defamation laws to silence human rights defender Andy Hall", UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 17 May 2018
- "Thai court orders immediate issuance of arrest warrant for Andy Hall", Finnwatch, 24 Apr 2018
- “Q&A: Criminal and Civil Prosecutions – Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall”, Finnwatch, 28 Aug 2017
- “Migration Activist Andy Hall to Launch Litigations Against Thai State Prosecutors, Police and Natural Fruit Company”, Finnwatch, 30 May 2017
- “Criminal & Civil Cases Against Andy Hall”, Front Line Defenders

Andrew Hall Interviews
- “Interview with Andy Hall on his Counter-Suit Against the Thai Authorities & Natural Fruit”, Interview by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 28 Jun 2017
- “Andy Hall Interview with Al Jazeera”, Interview with Wayne Hay, Al Jazeera, 24 Jun 2013

Finnwatch Report
- “Cheap Has a High Price”, Sonja Vartiala, Henri Purje, Andy Hall, Katariina Vihersalo & Anu Aukeala, Finnwatch, 21 Jan 2013

Court documents
- Appeals Court Judgement - Natural Fruit Company v Andy Hall [unofficial translation], Southern Bangkok Criminal Court, 31 May 2018

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Article
2 July 2018

Thailand: Appeals court dismisses Andy Hall's counterclaim against state officials that alleged unlawful prosecution over defamation case

Author: Andy Hall

"2nd July 2018: Thailand Appeals Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases Dismisses Andy Hall’s Counter Prosecutions Against State Officials", 2 July 2018

...Andy Hall, a British migrant worker rights specialist, received confirmation from his legal defence team in Thailand that the Appeals Court for Corruption & Misconduct Cases recently dismissed his counter criminal prosecutions filed in May 2017 against 10 State prosecution and police officials.  The Appeals Court upheld a first instance decision of the Central Court for Corruption & Misconduct Cases that dismissed these prosecutions back in September 2017.  Hall’s legal defence team is considering this Appeals Court ruling in detail to prepare to appeal the prosecution dismissal to Thailand’s highest Court, the Supreme Court...The Court ruled that none of the 10 officials named in Hall’s prosecutions...had acted unlawfully in launching in July 2013 a criminal defamation prosecution against Hall which the Supreme Court...The Court also ruled that none of these officials had sought to unfairly persecute Hall or cause him any damage or loss by means of their prosecution against him.  This recent dismissal follows a May 2018 decision of Prakanong Court in Bangkok that issued its first instance judgement also dismissing a counter criminal prosecution case filed in May 2017 by Hall against Thailand’s Natural Fruit Company Ltd. and two of its senior executives...

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Article
26 June 2018

Thailand: English translation of seminal judgement in favour of migrant worker & business and human rights defender Andy Hall which states work of defenders is in public interest

Author: Mr Witthaya Phromprasit, Ms Worajit Saengsook & Mr Natthaphong Thapananetiphong, The Southern Bangkok Criminal Court (Thailand)

"Judgement: Criminal Case Between Natural Fruit Company Ltd.  (Plaintiff) Mr Andy Hall OR Mr Andrew Jonathan Hall (Defendant) Concerning:  Defamation, violation of the Computer-Related Crimes Act", 31 May 2018

...Finnwatch’s purpose was to have the defendant conducted a research to find out if there had been any human rights violation in the plaintiff’s factory because Finland focused on the safety of consumer goods. It was necessary for the consumers to know where the goods came from and if there was any human rights violation involved, which was to comply with the standards of the International Labour Organization in association with the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) system… Finnwatch could be regarded as a representative of the consumers to engage in examining the fact about the said issue… Those agencies, to which Finnwatch sent its email messages...were organizations or agencies directly responsible for the examination, protection and promotion of workers’ rights. Apart from the dissemination of the said information, the press conference organized by Finnwatch to inform those attended the conference was in the public interest... [T]he public as well as concerned people had the right to disclose the said information so that the problems could be solved in the future. The act of Finnwatch was thus deemed as an expression of opinion or statement in good faith, by way of self-justification or defence or for the protection of legitimate interest and by way of fair comment on any person or thing subjected to public criticism... Such act of Finnwatch was therefore not deemed as an offense...

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Article
1 June 2018

Thailand: Defender Andy Hall comments on judgement & underlines court ruled defenders' activity was to be promoted in Thai society

Author: Andy Hall (Nepal)

"Statement by Andy Hall 31 May 2018 on Appeals Court Verdict", 31 May 2018

‘’I welcome Thailand’s Appeals Court’s decision today overturning the September 2016 ruling of Bangkok South Criminal Court convicting me of criminal defamation and computer crimes. I take the decision as a positive sign that my and Finnwatch’s research and report on alleged rights violations against migrant workers in Thailand was not an unlawful activity. Further, the Court ruled most progressively that this activity was in the public interest and to be promoted in the Thai society. I have always remained committed to helping Thai society towards promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers. My time away from Thailand has also provided me ample opportunity to reflect on my previous actions. I take this opportunity today to reaffirm my sincere intention to work constructively and positively with all parties concerned and my legal defense team to find means to bring about genuine reconciliation on all of my legal cases and disputes that are ongoing in Thailand. I believe firmly that reconciliation would benefit all those involved in and adversely impacted by these disputes... I look forward hopefully one day in the not too distant future to working once again with all sides in Thailand..."

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Article
31 May 2018

Appeals Court Judgement - Natural Fruit Company v Andy Hall

Author: Southern Bangkok Criminal Court (Thailand)

[Unofficial translation]

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Article
31 May 2018

Thailand: Appeal court dismisses criminal defamation charges against labour rights defender Andy Hall

"Thai appeals court throws out case against British rights activist", 31 May 2018

An appeal court in Thailand has dismissed criminal defamation charges against a British labour rights activist who was sued by a fruit packing company after alleged human rights violations at its factory. Andy Hall’s protracted legal battle stemmed from a 2013 report he researched for Finnish consumer organisation Finnwatch which alleged labour abuses at Natural Fruit’s...operation. It employed migrant workers from Burma who said the company abused them and broke labour regulations. Sunya Joongdee, a lawyer for Mr Hall, said the court ruling dismissed the criminal defamation case, which also resulted in the collapse of a related computer crime case. He said the court accepted Mr Hall’s interviews with migrant workers revealed information that should be made public. Mr Hall was found guilty of criminal defamation in 2016, fined and given a suspended prison sentence. His legal victory was welcomed by Amnesty International but is not necessarily the end of protracted court battles... Natural Fruit, owned by...Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, can appeal to the Supreme Court. Other cases brought by both sides as the legal battle escalated are still before the courts. On Twitter, Mr Hall said he had previously lost hope of justice but now a “flame was reignited in my heart”. “There is still the possibility that today’s verdict could lead in some way to peace and reconciliation,” he said.

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Article
17 May 2018

Thailand: UN experts condemn use of defamation laws to silence human rights defender Andy Hall

Author: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

A group of UN human rights experts* has criticised the use of defamation legislation in Thailand to silence human rights defender Andy Hall and others who report business-related human rights abuses...Since September 2016, Mr. Hall has faced multiple civil and criminal cases for exposing alleged human rights abuses related to the working conditions of migrant workers in several Thai companies. The UN experts say the case against him is emblematic of the growing number of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) in Thailand, filed by business enterprises seeking to silence legitimate concerns about working conditions in certain industries..."The UN Human Rights Committee has made clear that States should consider decriminalising defamation and that, even in the most serious cases, imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty. It is, therefore, critical for the Thai Government to revise its civil and criminal laws as well as prosecution processes to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies," they added..."The cases filed against Mr. Hall and against workers who complain about abusive working conditions may embolden other companies to file similar civil and criminal defamation cases against human rights defenders and workers, adversely affecting their legitimate and critical work standing up for human rights," they concluded.

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Article
24 April 2018

Thai court orders immediate issuance of arrest warrant for Andy Hall

Author: Finnwatch

Bangkok South Criminal Court...ordered for the immediate issuance of an arrest warrant for Andy Hall with a view to ensuring Hall’s attendance in the court to hear a verdict of the Appeals Court on multiple appeals against his September 2016 criminal conviction...The court was originally expected to read the appeals verdict today [24 Apr 2018] but the hearing on the appeal was instead adjourned until 31st May 2018 given Hall did not attend the court in person.  Andy Hall is currently no longer resident in Thailand and attests that he was not formally summonsed to attend the Court today through any official or lawful channels...On 20th September 2016, Andy Hall was sentenced to four years' imprisonment (reduced by one year and suspended by two years) and ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 baht (reduced to 150,000 baht) following his conviction on criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act charges...Andy Hall left Thailand shortly after his conviction...Natural Fruit also appealed the verdict in December 2016 seeking an immediate custodial sentence against Hall.  An Appeals Court’s decision can be further appealed to Thailand’s Supreme Court...Should Andy Hall fail to appear at Bangkok South Criminal Court again on 31st May 2018, the Appeals Court verdict may be read in absentia...

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Article
10 April 2018

S Group makes a donation to support defender Andy Hall's appeal of court decision

Author: Lea Rankinen, S Group (Finland)

"Freedom of action for human rights defenders must be safeguarded", 08 April 2018

At the end of March the Thai court ordered human rights defender Andy Hall to pay 260 000 Eur in compensation for the defamation to Natural Fruit company.

We are upset about the verdict. Human rights defenders make a significant efforts to improve workers' rights and should have the opportunity to act without fear. A free civil society benefits businesses also. Instead of the legal process, the problems must be resolved first and foremost with transparency and dialogue.

In recent years Thailand has launched measures to eradicate human rights violations. The measures are steps to the right direction, but alongside them, the work of NGOs and human rights defenders is also needed to improve human rights situation. In addition employees must have the opportunity to safely and legitimately raise their concerns.

Lea Rankinen, SVP Sustainability, SOK

A report released by Finnwatch in March 2013 revealed misconducts of the production conditions of pineapple juice in Thailand. One of researchers of the report...Andy Hall has been charged with several other charges of defamation...S Group has made a donation to the collection of Freedom Fund which supports Andy Hall in appealing a court decision.

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Article
27 March 2018

Thai court rules against labour rights activist Andy Hall in defamation lawsuit over report alleging human rights abuses at Natural Fruit's factory

Author: Kaweewit Kaewjinda, The Washington Post (USA)

"Thai court finds British labor activist defamed fruit firm", 26 March 2018

A court in the Thai capital...ordered a British labor rights activist to pay 10 million baht ($321,000) in damages to a company that filed a civil defamation suit after he helped expose alleged human rights violations at its factory.  The ruling against Andy Hall was the latest development involving four defamation suits filed by pineapple canning company Natural Fruit, which employed migrant Myanmar workers who claimed the company had abused them and broke labor regulations.  Hall’s legal troubles stem from a 2013 report he researched for the Finnish consumer organization Finnwatch that alleged labor abuses at Natural Fruit’s facilities.  They also concern an interview that he gave to Al-Jazeera on the subject, which was the focus of Monday’s ruling.  Natural Fruit claimed that the report Hall helped research and his interview comments both hurt their business...“This verdict is a major setback for rights of human rights defenders, migrant workers, labour/migration activists and researchers everywhere and casts a dark shadow over recent positive progress the Thai government and Thai industry has made to improve migrant worker conditions,” Hall commented...

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Article
28 June 2017

Interview with Andy Hall on his counter-suit against the Thai authorities & Natural Fruit

Author: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

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