December 10, 2016
Dear Prime Minister Prayut:
On this International Human Rights Day, we, the undersigned, write to you concerning the conviction of Andy Hall for criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act. Hall’s conviction was in relation to research he undertook by interviewing migrant workers and sending raw interview data to Finnwatch, which then analyzed the information and published it in the Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price. Finnwatch wrote and published the report online in January 2013 in Helsinki, Finland.
We are writing to you as an international coalition of civil society groups (human rights, labor, development and environmental organizations), national civil society groups, members of parliament, and corporations who seek to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and human rights defenders in Thailand are respected and protected in line with international law and standards. While we acknowledge the decision of the Bangkok South Criminal Court in this case, we remain deeply troubled about the potential of this judgment to seriously hinder the work of human rights advocates by preventing effective and confidential research and monitoring of supply chains, thereby putting migrant and other vulnerable workers at higher risk of debt bondage, forced labor and other abuse. Without basic rights like free association and collective bargaining, migrant workers in Thailand lack the means to effectively protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. This judgment could put them at even greater risk.
In June 2016, the U.S. government highlighted Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts by upgrading it to Tier 2 Watch List in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The U.S. government noted, however, that the prosecution of Andy Hall “impeded a climate conducive to preventing trafficking, discovering and reporting trafficking crimes, identifying victims, and apprehending additional traffickers.” It is extremely worrying that a Thai court has acted to criminalize the actions of Hall in contributing to professional research on alleged grave human and labour rights abuses committed by a Thai corporation. This decision will undoubtedly create a chilling effect on independent supply chain research, which benefits migrant workers and their families, the environment, the Thai government and people, and the international companies that source their products from Thailand.
We have been consulting closely in the aftermath of this decision and conclude that international brands committed to ethical sourcing are now facing a serious dilemma prompted by the conviction of Andy Hall. An increasing number of international corporations see such research as contributing important value to their decisions around sourcing and production of products. Many of these corporations have made a commitment to their customers to source and produce ethically. Increasing transparency helps international corporations to identify human rights risks and support Thai companies in efforts to improve. Any nation that hinders or obstructs supply chain research may be putting business and investment from those companies at risk.
It is important to note that during Hall’s trial, some of Thailand’s leading seafood companies and associations, as well as a leading European retailer, attested to the benefit of Hall’s research. Unfortunately, the Court’s decision sends a signal to international brands and retailers that the current environment in Thailand may not be conducive to ensuring ethical sourcing and may also embolden further prosecution of human rights defenders who report allegedly illegal practices at companies that harm human rights.
As a step toward assuring civil society, governments, and the private sector that Thailand is genuinely committed to protecting the rights of migrant workers, Thailand should decriminalize defamation and amend the Computer Crime Act to bring it into line with Thailand’s international human rights obligations. The present use of the Computer Crime Act in tandem with prosecution of human rights defenders for criminal defamation undermines the rights to freedom of expression and information of independent researchers, journalists, and human rights defenders, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. We also urge Thailand to actively and effectively implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to ensure that human rights defenders have a safe and enabling environment in which to carry out research, education and advocacy. Furthermore, we encourage the Royal Thai Government to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Labor Conventions, particularly Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association) and No. 98 (Collective Bargaining), which would empower migrant workers to protect themselves from employer abuses.
The work of Andy Hall and other human rights defenders on supply chains is essential to improving the lives of migrant workers in Thailand and their families in Southeast Asia. It also benefits all consumers of Thai products exported overseas who want to be assured that the products they buy from Thailand are produced in a manner that respects human rights. This work should be commended, not criminalized, by the Thai government.
We urge Thailand to act now to ensure that human rights defenders and migrant workers in Thailand are fully protected by:
Repealing the provisions in the Penal Code criminalizing defamation;
Amending the Computer Crime Act to bring it into compliance with international human rights law regarding freedom of expression;
Actively and effectively implementing the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders; and
Ratifying and implementing ILO Core Labor Conventions, particularly No. 87 and No. 98.