Moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson has written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, seeking his intervention for a human rights defender in Thailand. Anti-trafficking researcher, Andy Hall, a British national, is facing lengthy imprisonment and a fine of up to $10 million for publicly discussing research conducted for Finnwatch, a Finish non-government organisation.
Mr Hall, who previously partnered with the Synod in advocacy work, has highlighted various trafficked labour and Thai labour law violations at the Natural Fruit Company.
In interviews with Mr Hall, Burmese migrant workers said the factory had confiscated their passports and work permits. They said they were paid less than the legal minimum wage and forced to work excessive overtime when the factory was busy.
Workers also stated they were not issued pay slips and the factory made deductions from their pay that they did understand. The factory has since denied these claims.
Natural Fruit had previously been approached several times by Finnwatch and Mr Hall to discuss the findings of interviews with workers at the factory before the publication of the research, but declined all invitations.
In her letter to Minister Carr, Ms Thomas Dobson expressed deep concern that the action against Mr Hall will intimidate those seeking to address the serious violations of Thai labour law by the small number of factories involved.
Ms Thomas Dobson said if progress is to be made in eliminating these abuses, human rights defenders must be able to research and expose criminal human rights violations.
At the end of February, Human Rights Watch noted the assassination of the 30th human rights defender or environmental activist in Thailand since 2001.