There can hardly be a clearer example of judicial harassment than the on-going harassment of Andy Hall by Natural Fruit.
Andy Hall is a migrant rights specialist against whom the pineapple company issued a civil defamation suit in 2013, after he was involved in researching a Finnwatch report, Cheap has a high price, focusing on the poor responsibility practices of Finnish retailers in relation to private label food supply chains in Thailand.
Despite the Supreme Court already establishing that the allegations in the report – which include highlighting the risks of exploitation, human trafficking, forced and child labour and low wages – were in the public interest – yesterday (7 years on!) the Nakhon Pathom civil court accepted yet another
the Natural Fruit civil defamation prosecution, with Hall now due to stand trial at the end of October. If convicted, he could face damages of up to 300m Baht ($10m).
It is beyond my understanding how a company can see any value for itself in publicly harassing a human rights advocate in public when its own supreme court has already found it guilty of the crimes Hall reported. How can acknowledging, rectifying and moving on become so hard?
No ETI member should expect to do business with a company that acts in this way towards human rights advocates – or other forms of whistle-blowers. Lack of transparency, and a failure to respect workers,
and their rights and whistle-blowers, is a clear sign that a company is a very high risk business partner. There is also a failure of the State here to effectively regulate businesses and their practices towards workers and towards those who seek to highlight bad practice. This creates an atmosphere in which it is likely to be difficult to conduct good business.
What should ETI members do if they find these conditions within their supply chains? My thoughts run along these lines, but I’d welcome hearing from others on these points:
- First, companies should ensure that their own policies on how to respond in the event of disputes are clear and that these are effectively communicated to all suppliers
- Second, where there is evidence of judicial harassment – and associated evidence of exploitative practices towards workers – ETI members should immediately communicate with the concerned supplier to establish the facts and to initiate an investigation and report back
- Third, where the evidence is substantiated, ETI members should give fair warning to the supplier that they must desist all such behaviours towards human Rights defenders and towards workers, their trade unions and other third parties (civil society organisations, for example)
andto make clear that the consequences of failing to follow this guidance will include a loss of business.
These steps might also be supported by communications with State authorities in that country and with advocacy organisations with an interest in these concerns.
- Fourth, ETI members should seek to support remedy actions on behalf of workers - and human rights advocates, where this seems appropriate
- Finally, if all else fails, ETI members should make good on their word and cease trading with such companies and provide a clear public statement to explain what they are doing and why.
Where there are disputed claims regarding the treatment of workers and a conflict between the company and those reporting on such practices, all sides must follow fair and reasonable procedures. This protects all parties while the concerns are investigated by a trusted authority – such as a third party civil society organisation, a human rights commission, or trade union – and can pave the way for mediation and settlement.
Anyone and any company can make a mistake, it is how that mistake is remedied that marks good and responsible practice. Handling a dispute well can build your reputation and strengthen your business ties with workers and buyers for the future. But, how many companies really understand that?
How can ETI help?
ETI Secretariat will on occasion
can support its members during contested or badly handled disputes to its members and share the lessons learnt. Certainly, In this way, judicial harassment of workers and whistle-blowers by companies should be a thing of the past. We also provide guidance on grievance mechanisms and remedy in the event of disputes that cannot be resolved internally.