Unofficial English Language Translation: Verdict Prakanong Court 26th March 2018 Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall civil defamation case

Unofficial English Language Translation verdict of Prakanong Court from 26th March 2018 in Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall civil defamation case for which the Court ordered Andy Hall to pay more than 10 million baht to the company. The original Thai language verdict is available online at https://freedom.ilaw.or.th/yii/images/uploads/Andy%20Hall%20Civil%20Case%20Verdict.pdf

This judgement has wide ranging negative ramifications for freedom of expression of journalists, researchers, NGOs and human rights defenders present in Thailand. According to the verdict, Prakanong Court found Andy Hall guilty because:
It is found from the testimony of the Defendant (Andy Hall) that he collected information used in the research report by only means of inquiring some of the Plaintiff’s workers which is not yet certain if such information was true as it was provided by only some of the Plaintiff’s workers. Although it appears that Finnwatch contacted the Plaintiff to cooperate in the problem-solving but the Plaintiff did not cooperate as requested and refused to allow the organization to undertake an inspection, it is because Finnwatch did not have any document issued by a Thai government agency to request an inspection of the Plaintiff’s factory. Besides, as the Defendant is the labor expert who has conducted many researches and worked for several international organizations, he should be aware of researchers’ ethics in the presentation of his research and should be aware of the variety of impact on researched parties once the research findings were disseminated to the public. On the contrary, the Defendant gave the interview with the journalist referring to the Plaintiff in a manner of committing unlawful acts and abusing workers which contradict to the fact. The statements are not of fair criticism in good faith with a view to protecting the public interest as a whole. Later on, the video and audio clip of the Defendant’s interview was posted on the internet which is a circulation of the statements that are inconsistent with the fact resulting in the damages to reputation and means of earnings of the Plaintiff. Therefore, it is a wrongful act against the Plaintiff in accordance with Article 423 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code.

For more information on the Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall cases see http://finnwatch.org/images/NaturalFruitvsAndyHallQA_March2018.pdf http://www.andyjhall.wordpress.com and https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/thai-court-orders-defender-andy-halls-payment-of-10-million-baht-in-damages-to-natural-fruit-co?utm_ content=bufferb31a1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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○ (31) For Court Use
Judgment Undecided Case No. Por 1150/2557 Decided Case No. Por 843/2559

Correct copy
Signature
(Mrs. Sudawan Thephassadin Na Ayudhaya)
Court of Justice Official, Expert Level
– 5th April 2018

In the Name of His Majesty the King

Phrakanong Provincial Court
26th March 2018
Civil Case

Natural Fruit Company Limited Plaintiff

between
Mister Andrew Jonathan Hall or Andy Hall Defendant

Subject: Wrongful Act

The Plaintiff had filed a plaint and revised the plaint that, on 8th July 2013, the Plaintiff had learned about the Defendant’s interview with a journalist whereof the contents contradicted the truth and were recorded by video and audio recording in Myanmar in order to disseminate the Defendant’s statements to the public. Firstly, the interview stated that “Thailand’s fruit industrys is a valuable and sensitive business. NGO reports on one fruit processing company located in the south of Thailand. Natural Fruit (which means the Natural Fruit Company Limited) is accused of being guilty of basic human rights violation and of employing child labor”, which was not true. The fact was that the Plaintiff did not violate the labor law, there was no unregistered worker, and there was no child labor younger than 14 years old. Therefore, the Plaintiff did not commit the offences of violating basic human rights and of employing child labor as accused by the Defendant. Secondly, the Defendant stated that “They were not paid legal minimum wages. They were confiscated their passport. The workers were forced to work overtime. Many times their salaries were reduced with no reasons” which was not true. The fact was that the Plaintiff paid the wages, daily overtime wages and holiday wages in accordance with the laws as well as bonus. The Plaintiff neither forced the workers to work overtime nor reduced their wages or salaries and never confiscated the passports of the migrant workers”. Thirdly, the Defendant stated that “And they didn’t have any power to speak out. And I mean, all the workers there said to me that working there was like in hell”, which was not true either. The fact was that the Plaintiff’s factory is of international standard and recognized by Thai and foreign customers. Its employment complies with the law and it has never committed any act against the laws as accused by the Defendant. In addition, the Defendant accused that working in the factory was like in hell, which, according to the Royal Institute Dictionary B.E. 2554, the word hell is defined as the realm or plane of existence wherein sinners are believed to be born and punished and as the realm of suffering. The press interview given by the Defendant, which was later disseminated to the public on the internet, intentionally and unlawfully targeted the Plaintiff and damaged its reputation and honor as well as paths for earnings and prosperity which is considered a wrongful act against the Plaintiff. The Defendant must be liable to pay compensation to the Plaintiff since such accusing statements were serious and directly affected the Plaintiff’s reputation which caused the Thai and foreign customers to lose trust in the Plaintiff and cancelled their goods orders. As a result, the Plaintiff requested a compensation of 50,000,000 Baht in this regard. Additionally, the damage to other paths for earnings and prosperity of the Plaintiff resulted in the loss of Plaintiff’s opportunity to expand its business leading to a lower growth than that was expected at not less than 10% of the yearly income. This impact caused the Plaintiff’s trade competitors to be at advantage and therefore the Plaintiff requested a compensation for this damage in the sum of 25,000,000 Baht. For the loss of opportunity due to the cancellation of orders by customers and the conditions set by customers as well as new customers who refused to make purchase orders in spite of satisfactory prices because they felt uncomfortable with the publicized news, the Plaintiff requested a compensation of 25,000,000 Baht. The total compensation requested thus amounts to 100,000,000 Baht plus 7.5% annual interest from the date the plaint was filed until fully paid.
The Defendant testified that the Plaintiff had no cause of action. Particularly, the Plaintiff had learned about the Defendant’s interview before 8th July 2013 and the Plaintiff filed the plaint when the case was precluded by prescription. The Defendant admitted that he had given an interview with a journalist in Myanmar. His interview statements were the fact based on the information collected from some of the Plaintiff’s workers regarding the working conditions of migrant workers. His interview only contained the last two parts as charged while the first part was the journalist’s leading words and not his. The Defendant did not have any involvement in the dissemination of the video and audio clip of the interview on the internet but it was an independent act of the journalist. Accordingly, the Defendant had not caused the Plaintiff any damage and the Plaintiff was not entitled to claim future compensation. The case is hereby requested to be dismissed.
The Plaintiff adduced that, on 8th July 2013, the Plaintiff discovered a post of video and audio clip on the internet in a manner of slandering the Plaintiff about the violation of the labor law which was not true since the Plaintiff never employed child labor. Although in the year 2011 some parent brought a 16 years old child trainee to do light tasks in the factory, the Plaintiff had already obtained permission from the provincial labor office and afterwards there was no more child labor in the factory. The Plaintiff paid legal wages to workers and kept their passports only when the passports would need to be renewed every three months and such passports would be returned to workers upon renewal. There was no forced overtime. The Plaintiff’s factory was open for various government agencies in the province to bring outsiders to visit, which it would normally be notified in writing. The Defendant never sent a written request to speak with workers in the factory. If the Defendant had sent a written request issued by a government agency, the Plaintiff would have been willing to permit him to conduct a research. The false statements in the interview given by the Defendant resulted in damage to the Plaintiff. People were afraid to apply for jobs at the factory as they had heard the news about the condition of hellish factory. Some customers delayed their purchases, some cancelled their purchase orders and some prescribed conditions and bargained for lower prices. All these were based on the customers’ beliefs in the statements of the Defendant. Many phone calls were made to the Plaintiff to complain that it abused workers, employed child labor and did not pay legal wages. In the early years of the business, the Plaintiff earned the yearly income of approximately 400,000,000 Baht and grew where it became well known overseas. In 2011, the sale volume was 1,000,000,000 Baht and in 2012 the estimated income was 800,000,000 Baht. In 2013, although the sale was apparently increased as the Plaintiff exported 1,700 containers of canned pineapple but the income was nearly the same as that in 2012 when 1,500 containers of canned pineapple were exported. The Defendant’s act caused damage to the Plaintiff.
The Defendant adduced that since Finnwatch, which is a consumer protection organization in Finland, wished to ensure that the Plaintiff’s goods on the market shelves were not produced by human rights-violated process. It thus conducted an investigative research to determine whether or not the Plaintiff had done so and engaged the Defendant, who is a researcher and an expert in migrant labor, to collect information and forward to it. Finnwatch specified the scope of questions for the Defendant to collect information whereby the Defendant interviewed the Plaintiff’s employees. With regard to the dissemination of the research findings, Finnwatch tried to contact the Plaintiff to cooperatively help resolving the problems but it was not able to reach the Plaintiff. Finnwatch therefore publicized such research findings and the video and audio clip appeared on the internet was the clip presented by the journalist as his own opinion with part of the Defendant’s information. The damage occurred was related to the action of Finnwatch and not of the Defendant. That the Plaintiff did not allow overseas companies to undertake an inspection was the reason for many customers and trading partners to not make purchase orders with the Plaintiff.
Having considered the case, the preliminary fact can be established that the Defendant gave an interview to a journalist in Myanmar and made two latter statements as appeared in the Plaint and the video and audio clip of the interview was disseminated on the internet.
The case requires adjudication on some matters. Firstly, the Plaintiff has a cause of action since the Plaintiff’s authorized representative, Mr. Khachin Khongneeyawanich, and the President, Mr. Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, testified in supplementary to the witness testimonies previously given in the undecided criminal case no. Or 2051/2557 of this Court, as exhibit Jor.5, which reveals that the Plaintiff became aware of the offence on 8th July 2013. However, the Defendant did not produce any evidence or witness to counter the Plaintiff’s evidence. When the Plaintiff brought the case to the Court on 7th July 2014, it still was not precluded by the one-year prescription pursuant to Article 448, Paragraph One, which stipulates whether or not a plaintiff brings the case to a court after the prescription lapses.
The next matter requiring adjudication is whether or not the Defendant committed a wrongful act against the Plaintiff. The Court finds that while the first statements of the Defendant’s interview with the journalist as “Thailand fruit industry is a valuable and sensitive business. NGO reports on one fruit processing company located in the south of Thailand. Natural fruit (which means the Natural Fruit Company Limited) is accused of being guilty of basic human rights violation and of employing child labor”, and “They were not paid legal minimum wages. They were confiscated their passport. The workers were forced to work overtime. Many times their salaries were reduced with no reasons”, and “And they didn’t have any power to speak out. And I mean, all the workers there said to me that working there was like in hell” were the presentation of the anchorman, they were summarized from the information obtained from the interview with the Defendant. In this connection, the Plaintiff argued that it had never employed child labor except in the year 2011 when some parent brought a 16 years old child trainee to do light tasks in the factory and the Plaintiff had already obtained permission from the provincial labor office. Furthermore, the Plaintiff paid legal wages to workers and did not confiscate their passports except that it kept their passports only when the passports would need to be renewed and such passports would be returned to the workers upon renewal. It did not force workers to work overtime. In relation to the testimonies of the witnesses in the undecided criminal case no. Or 2051/2557 of this Court, as exhibit no. Jor.5, and the engagement of the Defendant, who is a researcher and an expert in labor laws, by Finnwatch, which is a consumer protection organization in Finland, to collect information regarding the Plaintiff’s goods production process and send to it to ensure that the Plaintiff’s goods on the market shelves were not produced by human rights-violated process, it is found from the testimony of the Defendant that he collected information used in the research report by only means of inquiring some Plaintiff’s workers which is not yet certain if such information was true as it was provided by only some of the Plaintiff’s workers. Although it appears that Finnwatch contacted the Plaintiff to cooperate in the problem-solving but the Plaintiff did not cooperate as requested and refused to allow the organization to undertake an inspection, it is because Finnwatch did not have any document issued by a Thai government agency to request an inspection of the Plaintiff’s factory. Besides, as the Defendant is the labor expert who has conducted many researches and worked for several international organizations, he should be aware of researchers’ ethics in the presentation of his research and should be aware of the variety of impact on researched parties once the research findings were disseminated to the public. On the contrary, the Defendant gave the interview with the journalist referring to the Plaintiff in a manner of committing unlawful acts and abusing workers which contradict to the fact. The statements are not of fair criticism in good faith with a view to protecting the public interest as a whole. Later on, the video and audio clip of the Defendant’s interview was posted on the internet which is a circulation of the statements that are inconsistent with the fact resulting in the damages to reputation and means of earnings of the Plaintiff. Therefore, it is a wrongful act against the Plaintiff in accordance with Article 423 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code.
The last matter that must be adjudicated concerns the degree of damages to the Plaintiff. The Court views that the Plaintiff operates a large business with large volume of goods exported to foreign countries. The interview given to the journalist by the Defendant, thereafter it was posted on the internet and was widely disseminated to the public, caused damages to the Plaintiff’s reputation as both domestic and overseas entrepreneurs who had business relationship with the Plaintiff misunderstood that the Plaintiff violated the labor law and employed child labor whereas these overseas companies attach great importance to the principle of good governance related to illegal treatment of workers. This hence led many customers to stop purchasing goods from the Plaintiff and a lot of trading partners to cancel their sales of raw materials as well as setting conditions for trading and price bargaining, as shown in exhibits no. Jor.20 to Jor.22, based on the given reason of their uncomfortableness over the news. However, even though the sale income of the Plaintiff following the year of the interview given by the Defendant decreased as shown in the financial statement, exhibit Jor.19, there were also other factors involved apart from such interview, including economic, political factors and so on that could have affected the Plaintiff’s sale volume. Accordingly, the compensation claimed by the Plaintiff cannot be precisely determined and Article 438, Paragraph One, of the Civil and Commercial Code authorizes the Court to determine the compensation reasonable to the circumstances and the seriousness of the wrongful act. In this respect, having considered the reputation and paths for earnings of the Plaintiff’s business operation, which involves current and future customers as well as the opportunity to expand its business to compete with other business operators in this field, the Court grants a compensation in this regard in the amount of 10,000,000 Baht. For the compensation for the damage to development and expansion of the production system, the Plaintiff adduced without any proof of visible damage and therefore no compensation is granted for this aspect.
The Court rules that the Defendant shall pay the compensation of 10,000,000 Baht plus 7.5% annual interest to the Plaintiff, beginning from 8th July 2013 which is the date the wrongful act was committed until it is fully paid. In addition, the Defendant shall pay the costs of action in lieu of the Plaintiff whereby the lawyer’s fee is determined at 10,000 Baht. For the court’s fee, the Defendant shall pay the amount based on the compensation granted to the Plaintiff.

Mr. Ong-art Thephassadin Na Ayudhaya
Mrs. Puangpaka Akkarawit

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