Briton Andy Hall in Thai court on defamation charge after speaking out over ‘human rights abuses’ against migrant workers

Researcher has accused fruit growers over child labour and migrant workers

chief reporter

When Andy Hall highlights the issue of abuse suffered by migrant workers in Thailand, it will not be in his role as a respected human rights researcher. Instead, the Briton will find himself in the dock of a Thai court accused of criminal defamation and facing a hefty jail sentence.

The first of three cases being brought against Mr Hall by Natural Fruit, one of Thailand’s largest pineapple processors, is due to begin in Bangkok, based on his research chronicling the alleged maltreatment of staff including confiscation of passports and the use of child labour. The trial is going ahead despite an international outcry at the prosecution and calls from across the world for the charges to be dropped.

If found guilty, the Lincolnshire-born campaigner faces up to eight years’ imprisonment under a draconian criminal defamation law drawn up in 2006, which opponents say is being used to intimidate journalists and activists critical of the Thai regime, now run by a military junta. Natural Fruit is also claiming up to $10m (£6m) in civil damages against the Briton. Mr Hall, whose UK passport has been confiscated by Thai authorities, told The Independent yesterday that the charges against him amounted to “harassment” and were a deliberate attempt to frustrate his efforts to expose human rights abuses suffered by millions of foreign workers.

About 100 campaign groups, including Britain’s Ethical Trading Initiative, whose members include major supermarkets such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have called for the cases to be discontinued. Two online petitions decrying the prosecution had last night reached more than 300,000 signatures.

But Thai prosecutors, who authorised the criminal charges sought by Natural Fruit, have insisted the cases will go ahead. Thailand is the world’s largest pineapple grower, but the industry is reliant on large numbers of migrants, many of them illegal, from neighbouring Laos, Cambodia and Burma. Research by Mr Hall for a Finnish NGO exposed allegedly appalling conditions suffered by workers in a factory run by Natural Fruit, which is owned by the elder brother of a former labour minister in the Thai government.

Mr Hall, 34, an Oxford graduate who has worked in Thailand and Burma since 2005, said he believed he would be ultimately cleared of the charges against him and wanted to use the case to highlight what he said is the systematic abuse of migrant labour in Thailand.

About 2.5 million migrant workers are estimated to be in Thailand, supplying labour to physically-demanding industries such as fishing and construction. About 80 per cent of them originate from Burma.

Natural Fruit initially declined to respond to the claims but later filed four separate criminal and civil cases against Mr Hall. It has since denied all the allegations against it.

The Thai government has defended the right of the company to pursue Mr Hall through its courts.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before