e write to you today to express deep concern with recent actions by a fellow member of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA), Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., and Natural Fruit’s CEO and TPIA President,WiratPiyapornpaiboon. The case Natural Fruit has brought against labor rights researcher, Mr. Andy Hall, has received international media attention and has been described as an “international embarrassment” to Thailand.
Dear TPIA members,
We write to you today to express deep concern with recent actions by a fellow member of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA), Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., and Natural Fruit’s CEO and TPIA President,WiratPiyapornpaiboon. The case Natural Fruit has brought against labor rights researcher, Mr. Andy Hall, has received international media attention and has been described as an “international embarrassment” to Thailand. Natural Fruit’s continued effort to silence human rights defenders tarnishes the reputation of the TPIA and the entire Thai pineapple export industry. We ask that you take immediate action within the TPIA to insist that Natural Fruit drop its case against Andy Hall and cooperate with worker groups and NGOs to resolve alleged labor rights violations at its factories. If Natural Fruit continues on its current course, TPIA members should act together to preserve the integrity of the organization by sanctioning Natural Fruit, up to and including removal of Mr. WiratPiyapornpaiboon as TPIA president and revocation of Natural Fruit’s membership in TPIA.
Natural Fruit filed its first criminal defamation charge against Mr. Hall on February 4, 2013, after Mr. Hall contributed to a report by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch that alleged serious labor rights abuses at the company’s factory in PrachaubKirikhan province. The report, Cheap has a High Price, gathered worker interviews to document violations including child labor, underpayment of wages, confiscation of migrant workers’ travel and work documents, and failure to provide legally mandated paid sick days, holidays and leave. Natural Fruit has continued to filecases against Mr. Hall, now totaling three criminal defamation charges, one civil defamation action and two criminal charges under the Computer Crimes Act. If found guilty of all the charges, Mr. Hall faces up to seven years in prison on each count and about $9.5 million in damages. The trial is scheduled to begin in September 2014.
Both before and after publication, Finnwatch and Mr. Hall made overtures to Natural Fruit to request comments and work together to resolve the issues alleged in the report. If, as Natural Fruit claims, the allegations are false, it should be straightforward for the company to clear up any issue and demonstrate that it is adhering to labor laws. By refusing to work with civil society and instead launching an aggressive legal battle against Mr. Hall, Natural Fruit is indicating it would rather intimidate critics and silence those who advocate on behalf of migrant workers than engage in genuine dialogue about conditions in its factories. These actions amount to a clear failure by Natural Fruit to perform its responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which requires businesses to respect human rights and to “address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved” as foundational principles.
TPIA cannot afford to remain silent as its President undertakes punitive, unjust actions against civil society, researchers and human rights defenders. Already, internet searches for the Thai Pineapple Industry Association bring more results condemning Natural Fruit for its actions than positive stories of your work promoting the Thai pineapple industry. This negative publicity hinders TPIA’s ability to carry out its stated mission, and the trial has not yet even begun. Economic consequences are likely to follow as current and potential buyers weigh the risk of becoming entangled with the scandal by associating their name with the TPIA or any of its member companies.
To protect its members and the industry it represents, TPIA must take immediate action.We hope that you will work with other members of the TPIA to encourage Natural Fruit todrop the charges against Mr. Hall and engage constructively with civil society to demonstrate that all its members are in compliance with labor laws.If Natural Fruit refuses, we ask that the TPIA revoke Natural Fruit’s membership and remove Mr. Piyapornpaiboon as TPIA president.
We hope you will give immediate attention to this issue and look forward to a response outlining your plans regarding Natural Fruit. We would also welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you further. Please forward any action you take on this matter to Bobbie Sta. Maria, [email protected], at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHR), or Abby McGill, [email protected], at the International Labor Rights Forum. We will keep track of which members of the TPIA take action and which do not. That information will be registered in all relevant sections of our websites, and will be circulated to the 18,000 subscribers of BHR’s Weekly Update newsletter. We are also actively reaching out to retailers in the United States and Europe on this issue, and will convey to them which members of the TPIA are taking this attack on human rights seriously.
Image source: strongerunions.org