This month marks one year since I felt I had to leave from Thailand after almost 12 years working for the rights of migrant workers.
It is an emotional anniversary for me. I had to leave behind a year ago in Thailand many friends, work colleagues, a country I had essentially grown from a young adult to an older adult in, a culture and language I was coming more to understand and integrate into.
Thanks to all Freedom United supporters who have signed my campaign.
As I said in my statement on leaving last year:
'Importantly on a personal level, currently the situation in defending migrant worker rights for me and others who act as human rights defenders in similar situations has rapidly deteriorated in Thailand with significantly increased risks and aggressiveness evident.
As a result, I want to ensure time for existing tense situations of conflict to reduce as well as provide time and space for the many parties to these existing disputes to fully understand the importance of migrant worker rights and the necessity for human rights defenders like myself to have their work increasingly promoted and protected.
Only if such a positive situation is developed can people like myself work genuinely and most productively, free from threats and intimidation and without endless prosecutions that prevent our work from proceeding effectively.'
Update on the Natural Fruit Case
My legal team have now submitted my appeal against my conviction last year and sentencing to 3 years’ prison (suspended) with a 150,000 THB fine. Natural Fruit likewise appealed the decision requesting for an immediate custodial sentence to be imposed. This appeal is pending.
In May this year, on advice of my legal team and with deep regret, I launched counter prosecutions against Natural Fruit Company Ltd. and 10 state prosecution officials. Two Natural Fruit Executives were arrested and charged. The criminal trial is due to commence next March. All the cases against the 10 state officials were rejected by the Counter Corruption and Misconduct Court in Dusit, as were some of the charges against Natural Fruit company, its executives and their lawyer by Prakanong Court. My legal team is currently appealing decisions of both Courts to reject certain charges I filed.
The numerous civil compensation cases filed by Natural Fruit Company against me continue and the first will go to trial next February, 2018.
Thammakaset Farm, the chicken supplier to Betagro
Days after I left Thailand, it became clear that Thammakaset Farm had apparently teamed up with the legal team used by Natural Fruit Company to file criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against me.
These relate to my social media campaign on behalf of the 14 Myanmar worker's allegations of forced labour in Betagro's international poultry export supply chain, which Freedom United has also supported. There has been no delivery of a summons to me in this case, so I don’t know how it will play out.
Government and Industry Responses
During the past year, I’m delighted to see that many innovative and forward-looking socially aware companies both in Thailand and within Europe have taken positive steps to stand up for me and the 14 workers, as part of their supply chain responsibility work.
I personally have worked hard alongside these companies in the past year to seek to find a means of reconciliation or compromise in both the Natural Fruit and Thammakaset cases that involved personal concessions on my side.
Thailand's Government has in many ways also taken many positive steps in the past year, to start to address systematic exploitation of migrant workers. However, a chaotic short-term migration policy continues to exist in Thailand, as does unethical migrant recruitment that too often leads to forced labour.
Thanks in part to your campaigning efforts with Freedom United, positive steps towards improvement in Thailand, particularly concerning poultry, seafood as well as labour inspections, migration policy developments have occurred that should be recognised and praised. In the context of increasing interest in business and human rights in Thailand, hopefully these improvements will continue more strongly into the future.
During the past year, I have continued to engage Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and senior government officials.
I have drafted reconciliation texts, and requested support from the Thai government and agencies in an attempt at reconciliation, particularly with Thammakaset Farm and Natural Fruit.
Whilst it would surely take time, there have been no positive signs communicated to me as yet regarding this personal attempt at reconciliation or dispute settlement. Previous attempts to bring about a meeting between all parties to the Thammakaset dispute, without lawyers, ended acrimoniously and seemed to galvanise even negative developments. I was advised against further reconciliation attempts earlier in 2017 as the time didn't seem right.
My hope is that the disputes and controversies that meant I had to leave Thailand could be overcome in a way that is positive for Thailand, Thailand's export industry, Natural Fruit Company Ltd, Thammakaset Farm, Betagro and myself. However, on a positive note, these actions have contributed to the improvements to the conditions of migrant workers in Thailand.
This is where I am, one year since I left Thailand.
P.S. You can leave a comment for Andy here.