State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) SOLIDARITY STATEMENT ANDY HALL-ENGLISH

Press Release: 3rd April 2013

State Enterprises Workers’ Relations

For more information on this statement, please contact Mr. Savit Kaewvarn (General Secretary, SERC) on +66 863 361110 (Thai language only)

The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) is an employee’s confederation combining 45 state enterprise and private sector labour unions with a total membership of over 200, 000 employees. SERC prioritises worker and human rights protection and promotion in both national and international arenas. The situation regarding violations against worker and human rights in Thailand continues increasingly to be in danger, with every day seeing more negative developments, deterioration and new forms of violations. Thai union leaders and Thai unions, alongside huge numbers of migrant workers, are living and working in Thailand together, led by SERC, and are struggling to cope with all these kinds of violations.

Recently, the prosecution against worker rights defender Mr. Andy Hall arose. Andy has for almost a decade campaigned genuinely and tirelessly for migrant workers in Thailand and actively worked with SERC as our voluntary international advisor. Since SERC has worked with Andy, we found out that he is very effective in his work and he is also always committed to following up every situation regarding violation against migrant workers that is brought to his attention, as well as cooperating with every stakeholder inside the country and overseas who is willing to cooperate with him. In many situations over the years, Andy has been forced to publically disclose violation cases where employers of migrant workers, both Myanmar, Cambodian and Laotian, violated the law and human and labour rights of workers. Those disclosures have increasingly frustrated some employers, government officials and politicians.

However, the campaigns for migrant worker rights led by Andy Hall are always straightforward. He has always aimed to campaign without any intention of destroying or punishing anyone. The objective of his work is solely to protect worker and migrant rights so as to promote the treatment of these workers in accordance with international standards. Indeed, Andy’s work has benefitted every stakeholder involved including governments, employers, factories and particularly migrant workers themselves. Andy Hall has worked tirelessly with SERC and the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), the latter which he assisting in forming and empowering, in campaigning on violations against worker rights in many factories. Indeed, many factories which Andy has engaged have been much cooperative to improve rights violation situations.

His tireless work to stop systematic exploitation against migrant workers in Thailand has now obstructed the unlawful activities of Natural Fruit Company Ltd., a company producing and exporting fruit juice and canned fruit, part of the larger Nat Group. Andy has been prosecuted in criminal cases of defamation and under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act by Natural Fruit. Moreover, he is also facing prosecution in a civil case for 300 million baht damages. The prosecution cites harm caused by the public dissemination of his research for Finnwatch, a Finnish organization working for consumer protection. Finnwatch researched three factories in Thailand that produce goods and exports to Finland. In accordance with rules and regulations, the factories concerned must respect worker rights, legally hire employees as well as providing safety and occupational working conditions for all workers, migrant or otherwise.

SERC are very concerned with the prosecution of Andy Hall. This case will and has already created a negative impact on Natural Fruit Company Ltd and will also affect Thailand’s exports to Europe and to other regions around the world. Even worse, this prosecution could potentially destroy Thailand’s reputation even further as increasing violations against worker rights and human trafficking in Thailand are already being watched closely by the international community.

As an affiliate of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), SERC has already submitted the letter to ITUC in requesting the assistance from ITUC to help Mr.Hall. And SERC will support and attempt to always protect Andy Hall and will campaign on worker rights and human rights for both Thai and migrant workers on a domestic and international level with the following demands:

1. The management of Natural Fruit Company Ltd. should drop their prosecutions against Andy Hall and change the company’s direction to develop worker rights mechanisms.
2. The Thai Government should urgently act to resolve this case.
3. Domestic and international unions, NGOs, human rights advocates and media should cooperate in Thailand and overseas to campaign and protect all human and worker rights defenders in Thailand, including importantly at this time Andy Hall.

In Solidarity
State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC)
April 3rd 2013

The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) on Wednesday issued a solidarity statement demanding that Natural Fruit drop criminal and civil lawsuits filed against British migrant labour activist Andy Hall.

The management of Natural Fruit Company Ltd should withdraw its charges and change the company’s direction, to instead develop workers’ rights mechanisms, SERC secretary general Savit Kaewvan said.

The government should also intervene in resolving this case, the SERC written statement said.

Natural Fruit Company Ltd, producer and exporter of fruit juice and canned fruit, is prosecuting the British activist on criminal charges of defamation and breaches of the Computer Crimes Act, and in a civil case demanding 300 million baht damages.

Mr Hall, the SERC statement said, has for almost a decade campaigned genuinely and tirelessly on behalf of  migrant workers in Thailand, and actively worked with SERC “as our voluntary international adviser”.

Andy Hall v Natural Fruit (File Photos)

“Andy is very effective in his work and he is always committed to following up every situation regarding violations against migrant workers that is brought to his attention, as well as cooperating with inside and outside stakeholders who are willing to cooperate with him,” said Mr Savit in the statement.

In many situations over the years, the statement said, Mr Hall had exposed violations where employers of migrant workers -from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos – had violated the law and the human and labour rights of workers.

Those disclosures had increasingly frustrated some employers, government officials and politicians.

The union confederation said the campaigns for migrant workers’ rights led by Andy Hall were always straightforward.

“The objective of his work is solely to protect workers’ and migrants’ rights, so as to promote the treatment of these workers in accordance with international standards.

“His work has benefitted every stakeholder involved, including governments, employers, factories and particularly migrant workers themselves.

“He has worked tirelessly with the SERC and the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), the latter which he assisting in forming and empowering, in campaigning against violations of workers’ rights in many factories, which have become much more cooperative in improving rights violation situations.”

The company’s case, which the Criminal Court began hearing this month,  alleges great harm caused by the public dissemination of the findings of a study he made for Finnwatch, a Finnish organisation working for consumer protection. It rejects the findings as untrue.

The study report  involved three factories in Thailand that produce goods for export to Finland. He was asked if the factories concerned respect workers’ rights, legally hire employees, and ensure a safe working environment for all workers, migrant or otherwise.

“SERC are very concerned about the prosecution of Andy Hall. This case will and has already created a negative impact on Natural Fruit Company Ltd and will also affect Thailand’s exports to Europe and to other regions around the world.

“Even worse, this prosecution could potentially destroy Thailand’s reputation even further, as increasing violations of workers’ rights and human trafficking in Thailand are already being watched closely by the international community,” the statement said.

The SERC has already submitted a letter to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), requesting its assistance in helping Mr Hall.

The Criminal Court on Tuesday adjourned the hearing until April 11.

The company has said it is ready to negotiate with Mr Hall, but had been unable to contact him. The company said it was just one of about 20 similar producers in Thailand and had no idea why it was “untruthfully” included in the report as an abuser of migrant labour.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/343729/natural-fruit-case-against-andy-hall-could-have-consequences-serc-warns

Legal actions against Finnwatch researcher are an attack against human rights defenders and freedom of expression

Finnwatch

Thailand’s authorities must immediately launch an investigation into  the operations of Natural Fruit and its parent company NatGroup. Human rights issues must be tackled also in the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations between Thailand and the EU.

Natural Fruit, a maker of tinned pineapple and juice concentrate, has submitted two lawsuits in Thailand against Andy Hall, the migration expert who recently coordinated Finnwatch’s field research in Thailand.
If found guilty, Mr Hall could face seven years in prison. Natural Fruit is also demanding seven million euros for damages.
The accusations relate to research commissioned by Finnwatch and conducted by Mr Hall in October-November 2012 and the communication of its results to the public.
The most alarming findings were based on interviews with Natural Fruit’s employees. The workers, some of whom were undocumented migrants, reported poor working conditions, unlawfully low wages, confiscation of official documents, use of child labour and excessive overtime. Interviews were documented and can be verified.
Finnwatch communicated the findings to relevant Thai ministries in December 2012. Natural Fruit was also contacted repeatedly during the research process. The company did not respond in any way or display any interest to comment on our findings.
Despite strong evidence indicating serious wrongdoings, Natural Fruit or its parent company NatGroup have not been held accountable and are allowed to continue their operations.
Our understanding is that the lawsuits filed against Andy Hall are not only unfounded but also a part of a wider attempt to limit the activities of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression in Thailand.
In recent months alone, several situations have been reported in which the fundamental human and labour rights of workers in Thailand’s key export industries, such as shrimp, tuna and pineapple processing, have been grossly violated. Thai authorities’ responses have in many cases been inadequate and ineffective.
Thailand recently finalised lengthy negotiations on a partnership cooperation agreement with the European Union, its third largest trading partner. According to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, respect for human rights and the fight against corruption are essential elements of the agreement. In March, the EU and Thailand launched negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement.
It is important that the EU, in the context of the ongoing negotiations as well as in its other interactions with Thailand, raises the above-mentioned human rights issues and uses all the means in its power to encourage Thailand to respect human rights and the freedom of expression.
Thailand must step up its efforts to protect human rights defenders and to ensure that organisations, researchers, activists and journalists promoting human rights may carry out their work free of harassment.
All legal actions against Andy Hall must be dropped, and Thailand’s authorities must immediately launch an investigation into NatGroup’s operations.

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