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.  On 6 September 2018, Andy Hall appealed against the decision.  On 22 May 2019, Bangkok’s Prakanong Court rejected the appeal and upheld the 10 million baht ($313,000) judgment.

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 19 October 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 criticising 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

- "Appeals Court orders Andy Hall to pay 10 million baht in damages to Natural Fruit", Finnwatch, 22 May 2019
- "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
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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Article
29 May 2017

Press Release: Migration activist Andy Hall to launch litigation against Thai state prosecutors, police & Natural Fruit Co.

Author: Finnwatch

Lawyers representing Andy Hall, a British researcher and activist specialising in migrant worker rights, will today at 9:00am file criminal litigation against nine Thai state prosecution officials and one senior police officer... Hall’s lawyers will then proceed to file criminal litigation...against Natural Fruit Company Ltd.... This litigation concerns a criminal defamation charge relating to an interview Hall gave to Aljazeera English in Myanmar and filed against him by Natural Fruit... in Bangkok in July 2013...I was encouraged to initiate these litigations by migrant workers whom I continue to support in Thailand. After my criminal conviction, many workers and rights defenders in Thailand and even globally told me they hesitate to... report fully on abuses due to fear of negative repercussions.It's imperative that these two sets of criminal prosecutions claim space back for victims of rights abuses, of rights abuses, exploited workers and human rights defenders to speak out with confidence about unlawful conduct by business and state actors...” [Hall said]. Today’s launch of criminal litigation by Hall coincides with the Thai Prime Minister’s launch of Thailand’s National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights. NAPs are UN recommended tools for...States to promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights...

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Article
31 March 2017

British rights activist sues Thai authorities

Author: Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Reuters

A British rights activist filed lawsuits on Wednesday against Thai authorities and a major Thai fruit producer, accusing them of unlawful prosecution over a 2014 criminal defamation case against him which had been thrown out of court.  Rights activist Andy Hall has been involved in high-profile legal battles since the publication in 2013 of a report he researched for Finnish group Finnwatch on the treatment of migrant workers by Natural Fruit Company, Thailand’s biggest producer of tinned pineapples...[H]e was found guilty of criminal defamation over the report and given a suspended three-year jail term in a case that alarmed rights groups who feared that it could set a precedent for the use of similar charges against others.  Hall’s lawsuits relate to a separate criminal defamation case over comments he gave to Al-Jazeera television.  That case was thrown out by the supreme court...on the grounds that he was in Myanmar when he gave the interview.  In Hall’s lawsuits, he accuses Natural Fruit, nine state prosecutors, and a senior police officer of wrongful and malicious exercise of their duty.  He also accuses Natural Fruit of giving false information to authorities...

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Article
21 February 2017

Joint communication from UN Human Rights Council special procedures to Thai Government

Author: Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, and Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children

16 Nov 2016

...we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the sentence issued against human rights defender Mr. Andy Hall for monitoring and reporting on the precarious working conditions of migrant workers in the food processing industry in Thailand, as well as Ms. Ye Ye and Mr. Su Yong, two migrant workers facing theft charges after seeking to provide proof for human rights violations at a poultry farm…

Concern is expressed that the sentence imposed on Mr. Hall is related to his legitimate and peaceful work as a human rights defender. The sentencing also represents criminalization of his legitimate right to freedom of expression and the gathering and dissemination of facts concerning serious human rights violations within Thailand’s fruit processing industry. Concern is also expressed at the use of criminal defamation laws against Mr. Hall under defamation charges for reporting on alleged human rights violations perpetrated by the Natural Fruit Company…Particular concerns are also expressed with regards to the right of a fair trial, the right to due process and the independence of the judiciary.

Further concern is expressed that the conviction and sentencing of Mr. Hall and his recent decision to leave the country because of security concerns may have a “chilling effect” on other human rights defenders and civil society activists working in Thailand and elsewhere to expose human rights violations perpetrated by non-State actors, including business enterprises...

Concern is also expressed with regards to the exploitation of migrant workers in the poultry industry. While we welcome some progress achieved in combating exploitation of migrant workers, such as reinforcing the labor inspection system, drafting legislation over labor agencies, introducing measures to prevent debt bondage and trafficking in human beings and creating stronger sanctions for labor abuse, we remain concerned over the continuation of abusive working conditions migrant workers face in the food processing industry…

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Article
19 January 2017

Response from the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the UN

Author: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand

…The Thai Government is not a party concerned in the cases between Mr. Hall and Natural Fruit Company Limited and is not in a position to intervene in the on-going judicial process…

The remaining cases against Mr. Hall are still pending and in accordance with the principle of neutrality and transparency, each side is allowed the opportunity to use facts and evidences that it deems relevant. Observers are also permitted access to these legal proceedings…

…The aim of the[defamation] law is to protect the rights and reputations of the general public from being misused, abused, or exploited, while at the same time maintain peace, stability and public order in the fast moving digital era. The law does not seek to limit or curb an individual's right to expression…

With respect to Thammakaset 2 Poultry Farm, the investigation by authorised labour inspectors found some misconduct with respect to labour rights of the 14 migrant workers in the areas of minimum wage, overtime payment, payment for working on holidays and overtime payment for overtime work on holidays. However, there is no evidence of any detention and confinement facilities of the company, which would suggest possible use of forced labour…

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Article
8 November 2016

Criminal & civil cases against Andy Hall

Author: Front Line Defenders

On 7 November 2016, human rights defender Andy Hall left Thailand due to fear for his safety and the on-going judicial harassment.  His trial has been ongoing for almost four years, and while criminal defamation charges against him were dismissed on 3 November 2016, he has been handed a deferred sentence of three years and still faces two additional charges.  On 3 November 2016, The Supreme Court dismissed criminal defamation charges against Andy Hall.  The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Court of First Instance in 2014 and the Appeals Court in 2015, due to an unlawful investigation and the fact that the alleged offence was committed in Myanmar...

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Article
4 November 2016

Thai Supreme Court clears labour rights researcher Andy Hall in one defamation case; conviction in another related case stands

Author: Mike Ives, New York Times

"Thailand Court Clears U.K. Labor Activist of Defaming Fruit Company", 3 Nov 2016

Thai Supreme Court clears labour rights researcher Andy Hall in one criminal defamation case; separate conviction in another related case stands

A British labor activist who accused a Thai fruit company of abusing migrant workers was cleared of a criminal defamation charge by Thailand’s highest court on Thursday.

But a separate conviction against the activist, Andy Hall, stands, and Mr. Hall said…that he would appeal it and sue the company, Natural Fruit, as well as Thailand’s attorney general and others.

“I feel very uncomfortable because as human rights activists, we want to spend our time doing productive, forward-moving work, and not sitting in court,” Mr. Hall said by telephone. “But this company will not stop its harassment, and the government is not doing anything to stem the harassment.”

Rights groups and the United Nations have objected to the prosecution of Mr. Hall, who lives in Thailand. He has been caught up in the country’s legal system since 2013, when he contributed to a report by a Finnish advocacy group that accused Natural Fruit of violating the rights of migrant workers from Myanmar…

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Article
15 May 2016

Q&A: Criminal and Civil Prosecutions - Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall

Author: Finnwatch

12 May 2016

…What are all the prosecutions about?

…What is the current state of play with the four cases brought by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall?

…What would follow if Hall was found guilty of the charges against him?

…Will Andy Hall have a fair trial in Thailand?...

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Article
25 January 2016

Human rights in Thailand: Andy Hall's legal battle to defend migrant workers

Author: Naomi Larsson, Guardian (UK)

22 Jan 2016

...Hall’s case brings into focus larger issues for human rights defenders in Thailand and south-east Asia. He believes it is a way to silence him and incite fear in other activists. “It makes people, especially Thai people, fear speaking out,” Hall says. “I’ve got white skin, I’ve got embassies, I’ve got media support, but they’re still doing it to me. How would your average activist ever dare to speak up?”

This sentiment has been echoed by global human rights organisations. Bobbie Sta. Maria, the south-east Asia researcher and representative at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, says it could lead to “self-censorship to avoid unnecessary prosecution like this, which is a valid reaction”.

Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, agrees: “There is certainly a chilling effect on people doing research in the supply chains in Thailand, and I think that affects not only foreigners, but Thai NGOs as well.”…

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