World stage for Spalding human rights defender’s cause

Andy Hall enjoying a rare treat - toast with tea - as he paid a visit to his parents' home in Spalding this week. ANL-161019-094149001
Andy Hall enjoying a rare treat - toast with tea - as he paid a visit to his parents' home in Spalding this week. ANL-161019-094149001
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A human rights defender from Spalding has found himself on the world stage for his work in Thailand.

Andy Hall (36) was in Strasbourg earlier this month to watch the European Parliament pass a resolution regretting September’s guilty verdict against him in a Thai court for defamation and computer crimes.

Andy Hall with his parents Pat and Des when he was home in Spalding in September 2014. ANL-161019-094245001

Andy Hall with his parents Pat and Des when he was home in Spalding in September 2014. ANL-161019-094245001

Andy found himself embroiled in court cases after he contributed to a report by a Finnish watchdog, Finnwatch, in 2013 alleging the Natural Fruit company had mistreated its workers.

MEPs called on the Thai government to “ensure that the rights, including the right to a fair trial, of Andy Hall and other human rights defenders are respected and protected and that the promotion and protection of human rights are not criminalised”.

Andy also had a private meeting with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and afterwards tweeted her as saying respecting human rights law is important but it is also good business and that European consumers demand products free of labour abuses.

He will be in the spotlight in London next week when he speaks to the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, including Morrisons and Tesco, that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the world.

I certainly have a lot of support from the migrant workers, who see me as someone who can speak up on their behalf. I have a lot of support now even from some of the Thai businesses.

Human rights defender Andy Hall

Andy is currently embroiled in four court cases including his appeal against the September conviction, which saw him get a three-year suspended jail term and a fine of around £3,300.

All of the lawsuits against Andy stem from his work in relating migrant workers’ stories of abuse.

As the verdict in the September case was announced, Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala said: “Andy has been made a scapegoat in order to stifle other voices that speak out legitimately in support of migrant workers’ rights.

“This is a sad day for freedom of expression in Thailand. We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling.”

Andy is currently spending a few days in Spalding with his parents, Pat and Des and sister Jo, before he goes to London and then returns to Thailand to face more battles in court.

When he was with his family in Spalding in 2014, Andy was looking at a potential risk of up to eight years in jail and fines totalling £8 million, but insisted he would not run away and still returned to Thailand.

This week Andy revealed he no longer thinks he will be sent to prison although his parents were concerned about the suspended sentence “being a strong warning to me that I would likely go to prison”.

He refused to pay the fine handed down by the court in September.

Andy said: “Two Thai companies and Finnwatch paid the fine for me because I refused to pay it.

“I have always refused to pay a fine and to apologise.”

He was kept in detention until the cash was paid to the court authorities.

Andy’s home is in Bangkok and he’s employed by the main trade union in Thailand to do research in a bid to improve people’s working conditions.

To relax he practices Yoga and spends time at a local Vietnamese Buddhist temple as it “reduces my levels of anxiety”.

There are mixed views in Thailand about Andy’s work and his role in exposing abuses suffered by migrants, who come from places like Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

He says: “I certainly have a lot of support from the migrant workers, who see me as someone who can speak up on their behalf. I have a lot of support now even from some of the Thai businesses.

“There’s certainly people who don’t like the work I am doing – they don’t like migrants and they don’t like the people who defend migrants.”

While in Spalding, he’s eating a lot of bread, because he says you can’t buy it in Thailand, having days out with his family and finding time to rest.

Andy attended Spalding Grammar School and then gained a first-class honours degree in law at University College London.

He later completed a PhD in corporate and social responsibility in Melbourne and Cardiff.

Although his roots couldn’t be more English, the East has his heart for now.

He says: “South East Asia and developing countries are exciting, you know. 
“It’s not to say I will always live in Thailand but who knows?

“You never know for sure.”