Prominent British rights activist Andy Hall left Thailand early on Monday (Nov 7, 2016), saying he feared for his safety amid legal problems and growing harassment from companies that have been “irrational, vindictive and aggressive.”
Hall, who has worked on the rights of migrant workers in Thailand for 11 years, has recently faced defamation lawsuits by companies he has accused of labour violations.
“The situation is not good right now,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Sunday before his flight, speaking from Mahachai, a town near Bangkok and the center of Thailand’s seafood processing industry.
“It’s rapidly deteriorating. It doesn’t feel safe. There are people who are intent on wearing me down. I’ve worked with so many companies in Thailand, and it’s rare to have a company that is so irrational and so vindictive. It’s enough to wear anyone down.”
In September, Hall was handed a suspended three-year jail term and fined 150,000 baht ($4,300) for criminally defaming Natural Fruit Company, a pineapple wholesaler that supplies the European Union. Rights groups called the verdict an alarming precedent in the fight against labour exploitation.
Emboldened by the ruling, a chicken farmer who lost his EU contracts and had to shut down his 1.6 million-chicken operation after Hall exposed alleged labour violations on one of his three farms, said he planned to pursue his own defamation case and has hired the Natural Fruit lawyer.
Supported by Hall, 14 chicken farm workers had sued the farmer in September, alleging forced overtime, unlawful salary deductions, confiscation of their passports and limited freedom of movement. They demanded $1.3 million in compensation and civil damages.
Chicken farmer Chanchai Pheamphon, owner of Thammakaset farms, countered with defamation lawsuits filed in October against the 14 migrant workers, and another one against Hall, filed last week at the Bangkok South Criminal Court, which handed down the guilty verdict in September.
“I didn’t know he was going to flee. I already filed the lawsuit last week,” Chanchai said by telephone. “Everyone who has made me lose my business -- I have sued them all.”
Asked how many lawsuits he had filed, he said: “Many -- a lot.”
Thailand, one of the world’s key food exporters, employs an estimated 3 million migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar. Many migrants face labour violations, such as unpaid wages, confiscated travel documents and limited freedom of movement, said Reuters.