Bangkok: A British activist was found guilty of criminal defamation today and given a suspended jail sentence over a report alleging abuses in Thailand's lucrative fruit industry -- a verdict the UN described as "very disturbing".
Andy Hall, who lives in Thailand, has seen a series of legal actions for contributing to a 2013 report on a Natural Fruit factory in the south of the country, alleging poor working conditions, low wages and child labour.
Today he was found guilty of defamation and breaching computer crime laws in a private prosecution filed by Natural Fruit.
Hall was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined 150,000 baht (USD 4,300), his lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat told AFP.
Rights groups say criminal defamation and computer misuse laws are routinely used to stifle investigative work in Thailand.
The country's reputation as a major supplier to global food chains has been tarnished by persistent allegations of labour abuses, especially against cheap and vulnerable migrant workers.
Both Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market, and Thai prosecutors have brought separate actions against Hall.
The United Nations' Human Rights Office for South-East Asia said the ruling was "very disturbing".
"It would have been more appropriate to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the serious allegations raised in the Finnwatch report," acting regional representative Laurent Meillan said in a statement.
The contentious report -- "Cheap Has a High Price" -- was published by the Finnish civil rights group Finnwatch.
It heaped pressure on Thailand's food industry.
Western companies have faced increased pressure to vet their supply chains and ensure their Thai exports are slavery-free.
But scandals keep emerging, while those who document abuses often face a backlash.
Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said international companies should "take a real hard look at whether they want to source anything from Thailand going forward" following the ruling.