A Thai pineapple processing company on Wednesday dropped a $9.6 million civil defamation lawsuit against British labor rights activist Andy Hall, who in a 2013 report alleged that workers were exploited and abused at one of the firm’s factories.
Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. dropped its lawsuit on the second day of what was to be a three-day trial, said Finnwatch, an NGO that published the report seven years ago.
“The prosecutor’s lawyer submitted a request to withdraw the case because the related criminal case was final and the company’s board of directors honored it by not further proceeding with this case,” a Nakhon Pathom Court sheet said.
Hall, who fled Thailand in 2016, on Wednesday welcomed the withdrawal of the lawsuit even as he faces another civil trial later this year on a separate defamation complaint.
“Some good news. Today Natural Fruit unilaterally withdrew its 300 million baht civil prosecution case against me at Nakhon Pathom Court,” Hall, who lived in Thailand for more than a decade, told BenarNews via a text message.
“But after years of ongoing judicial harassment that has taken a heavy toll on me, my family and my colleagues, this withdrawal of one case against me is not a victory,” Hall said. “My activism for over a decade in Thailand was intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country.”
Finnwatch’s executive director praised the move.
“Today’s withdrawal of the civil defamation case filed by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall is the only logical course of action. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Hall was not guilty as charged on the same facts as this case,” said Sonja Finér in a Finnwatch news release, referring to the court clearing him of criminal charges.
“There is an urgent need for Thailand to reform its defamation laws and step up human rights protections.”
In 2012, Hall conducted a survey among workers at the Natural Fruit Co.’s plant in southern Thailand and alleged the company abused some of its 800 workers – mostly from Myanmar. Hall’s research was on behalf of Finnwatch for its 2013 report, “Cheap Has A High Price.”
After the report was released, Natural Fruit filed two criminal defamation complaints based on its publication and Hall’s interview with Al Jazeera while in Myanmar. The Thai Supreme Court found him not guilty of both complaints, ruling the report served the public benefit and his interview was outside of Thai jurisdiction.
Natural Fruit had filed two civil complaints against Hall – one in the Nakhon Pathom court that was withdrawn on Wednesday and one filed with the Phra Khanong Court, in which the company demanded 10 million baht ($320,000) in damages.
Finnwatch said the Phra Khanong case stems from Hall’s 2013 interview with Al Jazeera and is based on Natural Fruit’s allegation that he intentionally harmed the company’s reputation. The ruling on this case is scheduled for Dec. 23, the NGO said.
Hall fled Thailand in November 2016, two months after he was convicted of defaming National Fruit and violating the nation’s Computer Crimes Act. The Bangkok South Criminal Court had sentenced Hall to three years in prison and fined him 150,000 baht ($4,800).
Finnwatch said Hall, who could be sent to jail if he returns to Thailand, continues to focus on migrant workers’ rights across Asia.
For his part, Hall said his intentions were good.
“I never intended to harm any legitimate business interests through my work and remain genuinely open to reconciliation with all those who may feel aggrieved by my campaigning style, to put an end once and for all to this continued irrational cycle of litigation against me and my colleagues,” he said.