TINNED PINEAPPLE MAN MAY OPEN CAN OF WORMS!
A British human rights activist yesterday pledged that he would go to jail if need be to defend Burmese workers in Thailand whom he says are being abused producing goods for shops in Britain and Europe and the United States.
Following the issue of criminal and civil libel suits by the Thai company Natural Fruit, of Pranburi, one of the country’s biggest pineapple exporters, Hall, 33, from Spalding, Lincs, said he would not be hiding from any arrest warrant.
“They can arrest, prosecute, and imprison me as they choose. Maybe I will or maybe I won’t claim bail if they do. But there is no doubt on one thing. I will win the case.
“I have never run away from the case but my team of lawyers has no idea what Natural Fruit is claiming as they never delivered the documents to me.”
Not only that but Hall claims that other Thai food exporting companies will come into the spotlight when and if the trial starts.
Hall was one of a team who produced a report on companies employing immigrant labour for the watchdog organisation Finnwatch. But, rather than sue Finnwatch, Natural Fruits chose to sue Hall personally after they gathered information he had presented to a meeting at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
The companies expected to be involved include the giant Charoen Pokphand Group (C.P) ; Thai Union Frozen Foods, Thai Union Manufacturing, Phatthana Seafood, Dechapanit Fishnet Factory, Siam Daily Foods, Unicord, Vita Foods, Narong Seafood, and Sam Roi Yod Pineapple.
The giant Charoen Pokphand Group or C.P. as it is better known is one of the world’s largest chicken and animal feed producers, and a major multinational also involved in IT and communications.
|A C.P. chicken processing plant|
It is the parent company of what is known in Britain as John West which produces canned fish products including salmon and, of course, tuna. It is known in France as Petit Navire and in the United States as ‘Chicken of the Sea’.
Last year Thai Union Manufacturing had to suspend exports of tuna to Europe after products were found to have found ‘post production contamination’.
EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) had flagged up 15 shipments with sterility problems
In the U.K. John West goods market their products with a
TRACEABILITY & SUSTAINABILITY PROMISE.
That means you can type the serial code of any product into their website and they will tell you when and where it came from.
More topically Thai Union Manufacturing were heavily criticised in the Finnwatch report in January this year.
“The most important violations are exploiting migrant workers and the use of child labor,” said Henri Purje, research coordinator for Finnwatch.
After interviewing numerous workers at Thai Union and Unicord’s plants in Thailand, Finnwatch found that the factories employ 14 to 17-year-old migrants, who reportedly had false passports.
Phatthana Seafood is a shrimp producer based down in Songkhla. It supplies amongst others Walmart in the United States.
Last year it faced a barrage of criticism for using what was described as Cambodian ‘slave labour’. Workers complained they were trafficked to their place of work and their passports were confiscated. Not much made the English language newspapers in Thailand. But there was this particularly scathing discussion programme.
Dechpanit Fishnet Factory is another company with a serious public relations problem. Last year acting on orders from Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to clear the illegal labour problem some 800-1000 Burmese workers were deported by truck from Khon Kaen back to Burma through Mae Sot.
Most were employed by the Dechpanit Fishnet Factory in Khon Kaen and reports said that some 30 to 40 child workers were among the many handed over to a camp in Burma (Myanmar) run by the BKBA – Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.
Siam Daily Foods is based out of Samut Sakorn and produces candy, jellies, and dried snack food.
Unicord is a another major tuna and petford producer operating out of Samut Sakorn. It has had a chequered history since it was founded in 1978 According to one report:
“Unicord’s main business involved the processing and canning of fresh tuna which were marketed worldwide.
The global tuna industry consisted of tuna fishing as well as canning. Worldwide, the United States was the largest importer of canned tuna.
In order to break into the US market and avoid costly tariffs Unicord acquired US based tuna company Bumble Bee for an amount that stretched the company’s financial solubility thin.
Once Unicord had entered the US market it was faced with external and internal challenges that included controversial fishing techniques, cultural barriers between US and Thai management, aggressive price wars in the US market, the tuna-dolphin controversy and division on major corporate decisions by top Thai management.”
It has now recovered and Unicord and affiliated companies are in the ‘Rubicon’ group which supplies companies like Walmart. Together with Thai Union Manufacturing, Unicord was heavily criticised in the Finnwatch report in January this year. Claims included the use of child labour.
Vita Foods based in Kanchanaburi Province also use Burmese labour in their production. It exports 5-6 million cases of canned fruit a year under brands such as “Libby’s”, “Liberty Gold”,”Bala” “Golden Valley”, “Sunkist”, “Kimono”.
In 1990 it won a best factory award.
Narong Sea Foods specialises in shrimp, squid, fish and cuttlefish. It produces about 40 tons a day of white shrimp and has plants in Bangkok, Had Yai and Mahachai where last year tens of thousand of Burmese workers stepped out to greet Aung San Suu Kyi who made an emotional address to their problems.
The company states: NARONG SEAFOOD AGAINST ANY FORM OF CHILD LABOUR, FORCED LABOUR AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING – on its internet site.
Last year Narong Seafood agreed to pay US$10,000 after allegedly using unlicensed Microsoft software to gain an unfair competitive advantage over Massachusetts businesses.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office said that Narong Seafood Company, Ltd, which has an operation in Gloucester, sold and delivered products unfairly into Massachusetts by illegally using pirated software products without having paid the appropriate licensing fees, thereby violating MGL Chapter 93A and its prohibition on unfair competition
Sam Roy Yod is another major pineapple producer based in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province
“We have almost typed up and translated all the evidence, interviews and documents, so almost ready to go anyway. Just waiting for the court documents as is required by law to be served on me. It is Natural Fruit’s duty to serve these documents on me, and they have a very expensive and competent lawyer in Dr. Somsak Trugsara,” added Hall.
“I am not difficult to find in Thailand, I am in and out all the time if they want to find me,” said Hall, a resident of Burma where he has been advising Aung San Suu Kyi and the government on migrant issues.
“But along the way, a lot will be exposed during my trial regarding migration abuses by companies and the lack of an effective migration policy by the government that will surely seriously damage the reputation of Thailand and its export related industries given the public nature of the trial and the levels of media, UN and diplomatic interest.
|Natural Fruit pineapple products|
“I have my boxing gloves on and will tear of the mask of the systematic, extensive and widespread serious labour and human rights violations against migrants in Thailand that have for too long been ignored and condoned by companies and the government and too much ignored by the international community.
“I will not negotiate with Natural Fruit, never and under no conditions. What I am willing to do is speak to them as to future issues once they drop the case however. If they don’t drop the case, happy to see them in court and defend myself, PUBLICALLY.
According to the Nation newspaper earlier this week, if Hall, a former researcher at Mahidol University, has left Thailand, then a court notification would be sent to his home address in the United Kingdom. Hall is a resident of Burma/Myanmar.
Somsak Torugsa Natural Fruit’s lawyer called on him to show up and fight the case to prove his innocence, adding that Natural Fruit is ready to negotiate.
“If you are really innocent, then face the judicial process and things will be over. If you want to negotiate, do contact us,” he said.