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A very un-Thai affair: Andy Hall and Natural Fruit

The finding guilty of human rights activist Andy Hall for defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act was lauded by the plaintiff, the president of Natural Fruit. After hearing the verdict, the president stated to the press that "No foreigner should think they have power above Thai sovereignty". Because Natural Fruit’s president has invoked Thai values, it is worthwhile examining the case through official normative Thai values, the Twelve Core Values of Thai People.

The Values, personally authored by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, have been criticised for being imposed from above in a way similar to the cultural mandates introduced by Field Marshall Phibul Songkram and for being a non-constitutional Buddhist charter. Nonetheless, they do provide a normative standard for behaviour for Thai people, one grounded in widely accepted morals derived from a blend of patriotism and the majority religion, Theravada Buddhism.

It is first necessary to establish the facts. Mr. Hall, who lives in Thailand, allegedly co-authored a 2013 report commissioned and published by Finnwatch, a non-governmental organization, Cheap Has a High Price. The section on Natural Fruit alleged child labour, low wages, and poor working conditions. Natural Fruit, a pineapple and fruit company, and a major supplier to the European drink market, brought multiple actions against Hall, some criminal and some civil, the latter including a claim for 10 million USD.

Critically, the result of the defamation case does not pertain to the truth, for in Thai defamation law, one of the strictest globally, the truth of any allegations of malfeasance is not investigated. For the truth to carry any weight, there would have had to have been a separate, criminal case against Natural Fruit, finding the company guilty of breaching labour laws. However, this has not yet occurred. Therefore, what Andy Hall contributed to the Finnwatch report are indeed only allegations. Hall likely did not wait for a police investigation because such cases can take years. As a human rights activist, Hall may have decided that letting the sun shine on the practices of Natural Fruit would have alleviated the practices.

It should be noted that Hall has not accepted any guilt and is appealing the decision of the Criminal Court. Moreover, the Criminal Court, in passing its judgement, conducted itself in quite a remarkable fashion by suspending the three-year sentence that it handed down on the grounds that the court considered that Hall’s work as a human rights activist was beneficial to Thailand. In other words, Hall was recognised as a moral being, which necessarily influences how we analyse the affair within the framework of the Twelve Core Values.

We now turn to the details of Mr. Hall’s allegations. Hall investigated a Natural Fruit factory in Prachuap Kiri Khan in November 2011. There, Hall found approximately 800 workers, with only one in eight being Thai. Approximately two hundred were allegedly illegal Myanmar immigrants. Hall alleges various irregularities at the factory – the confiscation of passports and identity papers, the mandatory purchase of safety equipment by the workers, wages below the then legal minimum of 240 baht per day, compulsory overtime of 5-10 hours per day, dangerous working conditions, and unsanitary conditions, namely a lack of men’s lavatories.

Hall’s allegations are just that. Moreover, Hall was paid by Finnwatch, thus he may have had a small pecuniary interest. However, accepted as a moral being by the self-evidently ‘Thai’ standards of the Criminal Court, we can consider the likelihood of any of these allegations being true. In particular, we can see that reporting these allegations would have constituted a moral dilemma for Mr. Hall. The Sixth Core Value concerns morality, integrity, considerateness, generosity, and sharing, while the Twelfth Core Value relates to putting the public and national interest before one’s own. However deliberately defaming a person constitutes a breach of the Eighth Core Value, specifically respectfulness of laws.

However, Hall, recognised by the court as acting selflessly in the national interest in previous behaviour, may well have been guided by one of the principles of the Second Core Value - sacrifice. Reporting what he adjudged to be facts demonstrates adherence to the Second, Sixth and Twelfth Core Values, including honesty, patience, morality, integrity, and the public interest. Moreover, Hall acted morally by inviting Natural Fruit to participate in the research and comment on his report, thereby correctly offering the ‘right of reply’. Natural Fruit refused to participate in the research.

This refusal is troubling. Firstly, the Sixth Core Value implies employers should act with morality and integrity regarding their employees. Indeed, the Sigalovada Sutta lays out clear guidelines for employer-employee relations. Employees should be provided appropriate work, just wages, health care, bonuses, and leave time, in return for which they should rise early, stay late, not steal, work well, and show allegiance. Mr. Hall appears to have believed that he found evidence of transgressions of treatment of workers, thus a violation of the intention of the Sixth Core Value.

Secondly, the Fourth Core Value is the seeking of direct and indirect knowledge and education. Within Buddhism, what makes people above animals is education. A trained human must acquire seven “fundamental qualities” to attain to the ‘dawn of education’. These include having a good friend and perfecting morality, aspiration, one’s view, heedfulness, and wise reflection. In not participating in Hall’s research, Natural Fruit apparently did not pursue some of the principles of the Fourth Core Value.

In publicly reporting the transgressions, Hall incurred risk – four years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine, as well as a 10 million USD civil case. Hall, well acquainted with Thai society, would have been able to correctly evaluate this risk. Yet, he went ahead with the allegations. Given that the Criminal Court recognised Hall as a moral being, the obvious explanation for this sacrifice was that Andy Hall believed he was upholding the Twelfth Core Value, to protect the public and national interest. Anyone acting in such a way is of course also protecting the First Core Value – upholding the nation, religions, and monarchy.

 

Note: This column is an unabridged and slightly amended (to note that Andy Hall is only alleged to be a co-author) version of a column published in the Bangkok Post on September 24, 2016. It examines the Andy Hall for that column, with the ability to comment, see here; for a permalink version, see here.

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