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Human Rights

European food companies call foul over Thailand fruit company

Business joins the international outcry over Thai company's lawsuits against human rights investigator Andy Hall. He faces civil and criminal charges over his work for rights group Finnwatch.

A group of major European firms has joined the growing international outcry against the trial of a British activist in Thailand. Andy Hall was investigating migrant labor conditions in the country's food industry. International food purchaser and wholesaler United Nordic has called the lawsuits, brought by Thailand's Natural Fruit Company, a ''negative development'' and called for ''the engagement of constructive dialogue with organisation and civil society.''

Andy Hall worked for rights group Finnwatch documenting migrant labor rights abuses. His accusations of forced and child labor illegally low wages and long hours in a Natural Fruits factory was met with a frenzy of civil and criminal lawsuits.

Court appearance soon

Hall is next due in court on September 2 on a defamation charge, which cites an interview he gave Al Jazeera in Burma. United Fruit is also claiming $10 million (7.6 million euros) damages. Finnwatch calls the charges ''not only unfounded but also a part of a wider attempt to limit the activities of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression in Thailand.''

Nearly 100 international and national labor and rights groups have lobbied the Thai Pineapple Industry Association to rein in Natural Fruit. So far the TPIA has responded with a threat of further lawsuits. Finnwatch says it is keeping the European food industry abreast of developments.

bw/hg (AFP,Finnwatch)

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