The Foreign Trade Association (FTA) is disappointed by the Bangkok South Criminal Court ruling that has found British rights activist, Andy Hall, guilty of the charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes pressed by Thai-based Natural Fruit Company. These charges pertain to his actions in reporting labour abuses at the premises of the pineapple producer in a report called "Cheap has a High Price", published by Finnish NGO Finnwatch in 2013.
Following this decision, Mr Hall has been sentenced to four years in prison, which have been reduced by one year due to his record as a human rights defender, and to pay a 150 000 baht fine (3.800 euros approximately). However, the court will suspend the sentence and he will be free and able to travel.
FTA has been closely following the case and considers this decision a sad setback for human rights. FTA believes that cooperation, and not litigation, is the solution and that the right to freedom of speech should be respected and recognised to all organisations, in particular those working to protect human rights and improve labour conditions.
The association has repeatedly joined the international movement in support of Mr Hall, requesting Natural Fruit to drop the charges and pursue more constructive means of resolving issues with stakeholders, as well as concrete efforts to improve working conditions. FTA’s approach to social compliance is built on a step-by-step development process in which companies and their producers work together to achieve sustainable and long-lasting improvements in their supply chains. Since the publication of the report, FTA and its members engaged in positive dialogue with this Finnish civil society organisation in order to address the labour issues identified and BSCI participant S Group gave a step forward taking part in Mr Hall’s trial as key witness for the defence.
Thailand is an important trading partner for European retailers and importers. However, the lack of full alignment of domestic legislation with international standards and law enforcement in key areas such as illegal fishing and the protection of the environment are making sourcing operations of European companies increasingly risky. FTA has been involved in a series of discussions with the Thai government and representatives of the Thai industry and civic organisations to ensure progress is made in addressing these critical issues. The close cooperation of policy-makers and stakeholders led to tangible progress but more efforts are needed in order to meet the high sustainability standards of the European trade sector.