• Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:51 pm

Underpaid migrant factory workers in Thailand launch legal action

  • Published at 05:56 pm September 22nd, 2020
Thailand Migrant workers
File photo: Workers wrap soap bars at a STS Consumer Product factory, in Bangkok on March 28, 2016 Reuters

The MAP Foundation said global brands also had a responsibility to reimburse the workers in their supply chains

A group of garment workers in Thailand who were illegally underpaid while making products for global brands including Starbucks and Walt Disney Co are taking legal action to demand compensation after losing their jobs last year.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in September 2019 found dozens of migrants from neighbouring Myanmar working at several factories in the western region of Mae Sot were paid less than the daily minimum wage of $10.15.

Located 500km from the capital Bangkok, Mae Sot is the main entry point into western Thailand and a trade hub home to about 430 factories and at least 44,500 workers - mainly migrants seeking to make money to send back to their families.

Following the expose, officials raided two garment factories and ordered the owners to pay wages owed to their workers.

Owners of one of the factories were ordered last year to pay 18 million baht in compensation to 600-odd workers. The company that owns the factory - Cortina Eiger - said it had repaid the workers, which was confirmed by labour officials in Mae Sot.

The owner of the other factory, Kanlayanee Ruengrit, has not yet paid 3.48 million baht to 26 workers who lost their jobs when she closed her business following the raid.

Interviews with workers by local and global rights groups found that her factory was making goods for several major brands from Universal Studios to Britain's largest supermarket Tesco.

Disney, Starbucks and Tesco said they were working with local representatives and civil society groups to support the workers from Kanlayanee's factory and find a solution.

The 26 workers are yet to receive any money and are part of a civil lawsuit filed last month on their behalf by the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), asking a local labour court to enforce the compensation order against Kanlayanee.

"This case is just another example that shows every business that invests in Mae Sot takes advantage of cheap migrant labour," said Suchart Trakoonhutip, labour rights coordinator at MAP Foundation, which has supported the workers along with HRDF.

Jarunchai Korsripitakkul, an inspector at the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, declined to comment on the case but rejected criticism from campaigners that officials had turned a blind eye to labour violations in the region.

Last year, another labour ministry official, Somboon Trisilanun, said Mae Sot - which is in Tak province and part of a special economic zone (SEZ)- was a "black hole" because many garment factories in the region were difficult to inspect.

‘Chilling message’

Kanlayanee said she could only afford to offer the workers a total of about 800,000 baht - a quarter of the sum ordered - which they rejected this month.

"I am sad with what has happened," said Kanlayanee. "I am confident I have never taken advantage of (the workers) in a moral sense, but in terms of the law I admit that I was wrong."

"Most factories in Mae Sot are in the same situation ... only the large factories can afford to (pay the minimum wage)."

HRDF and the MAP Foundation - which provides support to Burmese migrant workers - estimate fewer than a dozen factories paid minimum wage based on research and interviews in the area.

Separate to HRDF's legal case - which has its first hearing next month - the Tak Province Office of Labour Protection and Welfare said it was in the process of filing a criminal lawsuit against Kanlayanee for failing to compensate the 26 workers.

If found guilty, Kanlayanee faces a fine of up to 20,000 baht and/or a year in prison.

The MAP Foundation said global brands also had a responsibility to reimburse the workers in their supply chains.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the company terminated its relationship with the factory in December, and was looking for a way to "remediate the situation with the involved parties".

Disney and Tesco said the factory was not authorized to make their products and they were seeking to help the workers.

NBCUniversal, which owns Universal Studios, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Several workers said Kanlayanee circulated their details after the raid with their names and photos put on blacklists outside some factories so they were repeatedly refused jobs.

Kanlayanee denied sharing the details of any workers.

53
52
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail