Blow in libel case of human rights activist

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The Thai government has defended the labour practices of a canned fruit company which continues its US $10 million libel case against Spalding human rights campaigner Andy Hall.

Mr Hall’s case hit international headlines in April, when the Natural Fruit Company took legal action against him for “broadcasting false statements to public media”, disputing allegations it had employed underage labour and confiscated the passports of migrant workers from Burma.

His allegations were published in the Finnwatch report “Cheap has a high price” .

Last week we reported how Mr Hall, who faces jail if he loses the case, had failed to turn up for a hearing for the fourth time because the fruit company had not been able to find him to serve him with the required papers.

In response to a letter from Burma Campaign UK, the Royal Thai Embassy in London has now said said the government was fully supportive of the work of all NGOs and respected the promotion and protection of human rights for all.

It emphasized that the allegations were checked through an inspection by the Ministry of Labour.

The inspection took place on January 28, a week after the “Cheap has a high price” report was published.

As a result the report included a response to nine allegations against the company, in which it denied many of Hall’s allegations and also urged the company to make some changes.

The Ministry said: “The labour inspection did not find any child labour below the age of 18. According to the six Myanmar workers interviewed, none of the workers saw child labour employed in the company.

“In terms of allegations over confiscated passports, the employer admitted it kept some workers’ passports but only upon workers’ requests.

“In general this practice is for convenience in responding to the tri-monthly inspection by the Immigration Bureau.

In spite of the ministry’s statement, Mr Hall he stood behind the accuracy of his reporting in the Finnwatch report.

He said: “For me, I can only say I stick 100 per cent behind the validity of my reporting of the violations at Natural Fruit that migrant workers reported to me.”