Well it's guns away for British retailer Tesco. Tesco Lotus is the Thai equivalent of WalMart, the giant box-store retailer. The same kinds of concerns citizens groups in the US, Germany, Japan, and other countries have raised regarding WalMart also pertain to Tesco in Thailand. Tesco has launched two lawsuits in the past week against Thai citizen-critics.
The first shot
One lawsuit is against Kamol Kamoltrakul, a Thai journalist and academic who "commented about Tesco's plans for expansion." Bloomberg reports:
``It's intimidation of journalist's freedom of expression,'' said Kamol in a telephone interview. ``I'm not against Tesco; my concern is that its expansion may affect communities and their way of life.''The second shot
Another lawsuit targets Jit Siratranont , a former politician who now heads the Thai Chamber of Commerce, who recently spoke out against Tesco. In a speech to activists at Bangkok's Kasetsart University in November 2007 Jit Siratranont said:
The aggressive policy of expanding business in Thailand, not only in the big cities but also in the districts and sub-districts, is a contentious issue. The large-scale expansion of the big retailers must be exercised with great care - not too aggressively and too rapidly - to reduce the potential tension, which could lead to serious conflict. There is also the need for the small retail traders to adjust to changes. Tesco Lotus must take all of this into account.**Concerning remarks made by Jit Siratranont, The Guardian ** reports:
Thailand's legal system is vulnerable to manipulation by corporate interests; laws favor companies over citizens groups; in fact, it is just plain risky to publicly criticize a business in Thailand. That's all the more reason why the two recent lawsuits filed by Tesco are the height of corporate irresponsibly. Tesco is behaving like a bully. If Tesco does not drop these lawsuits, this blogger will join calls for a worldwide consumer boycott of the British retailer.
He said the growth came at the expense of Thailand's "mom-and-pop" small retailers which could not compete with the company's superstores and hypermarkets that total more than 370 outlets across the country. In the speech he mistakenly said that Tesco Lotus contributed 37% of the company's global revenues, an error Kamol also made in his column in BangkokBizNews last October.
Both concede their error. But it was raised in the writ served on Jit, as well as the civil libel writ Kamol received last month. Kamol's allegation that Tesco Lotus used complex accounting structures to repatriate revenues to the UK parent to minimise its Thai tax bill was also highlighted. "I think the main purpose of this is not to get my money - I don't have any - but to keep me quiet," said Kamol, an economics lecturer at Bangkok's Assumption University. "They're trying to intimidate me."
Jit echoed the view that Tesco Lotus was employing scare tactics to shut him up. But with the Thai Chamber of Commerce's backing he refuses to be quiet, and is adamant that Tesco Lotus has failed to show how he damaged its business or reputation. "Tesco Lotus picks on weaker people like myself to create fear," said Jit. "They want me to be afraid so I can't sleep at night. But I'm not worried. The chamber of commerce committee supports me on this."
# Sometimes the government pay for company's "dirty work" because Thailand has something called "criminal civil liability." That means the government can take you to court for something you allegedly said about another person -- a big waste of taxpayers' money, as Bangkok Pundit notes here.
* h/t ThaiVisa
** The Guardian is also being sued by the British retailing giant.