Betagro & Thammakaset lawsuits (re labour exploitation in Thailand)

In 2016, 14 Myanmar migrant workers filed a lawsuit against Betagro, a Thai food corporation, for alleged mistreatment at one of its poultry suppliers Thammakaset. The workers allege forced labour, restrictions on movement, passport confiscation, and unlawful salary reductions. In response, Thammakaset filed several defamation suits against former workers, journalists, and activists for raising awareness regarding the alleged labour abuses. Our page covering these suits can be found here.

On 2 September 2016, 14 Myanmar migrants filed a lawsuit at a labour court in Saiburi province, southern Thailand, against Betagro, a major Thai food Poultry_farm_photo_credit_pixabaycorporation.  The lawsuit seeks compensation and civil damages for alleged mistreatment at a poultry farm in the central Lopburi province in Thailand, Thammakaset 2, that supplies Betagro.  The workers allege that they suffered serious abuses at the factory, such as forced labour, restrictions on movement, passport confiscation, and unlawful salary reductions.  They claim, they were forced to work 22-hour shifts without extra pay and proper breaks, while their salaries came to less than minimum wage. The 14 workers seek 44 million Thai Baht (about $1.25 million) in damages and compensation. 

In June 2016, Betagro's decision to stop buying from Thammakaset was reported and the company said it had "stopped business operations with the farm until there is a solution for the labour conflict."

In August 2016, the Lopburi Department of Labour Protection and Welfare ordered Thammakaset, to pay the past wages of the 14 workers for an amount of 1.7 million Thai Baht (about $52,000). Thammakaset appealed and the Region 1 Labour Court rejected its first appeal. On 14 September 2017, the Supreme court of Thailand dismissed Thammakaset's second appeal and approved  the compensation order.

On 15 January 2019, the Supreme Court of Thailand ordered the immediate payment of  the 1.7 million Thai Baht (about $52,000) awarded by the Lopburi Department of Labour Protection and Welfare in August to the 14 migrant workers. On 12 March 2019, after an appeal by Thammakaset, the Central Labour Court (also known as the Supreme Labourt Court) issued a statement confirming the payment of the 1.7 million Thai Baht to the 14 migrant workers.

In response to the lawsuit, Thammakaset filed numerous defamation complaints against former workers, journalists, and activists for either raising awareness about the labour abuse they had suffered or speaking in support of the labourers. A full list of the defamation suits can be found here: Thammakaset lawsuits against former workers (re defamation on labour conditions, Thailand).

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Author: Jennifer Hattam, Equal Times

«Le harcèlement judiciaire, nouvelle arme contre les défenseurs des droits» 8 juin 2020

Athit Kong se bat depuis plus de quatre ans pour ne pas aller en prison. Le dirigeant syndical cambodgien est poursuivi au pénal, étant accusé d’avoir commis des violences intentionnelles, entravé le travail d’agents de la fonction publique et obstrué une route publique pour aider à organiser une action revendicative, en 2016, afin d’obtenir la réintégration d’une quarantaine de chauffeurs de bus.

Ces accusations à l’encontre de Athit Kong et de trois autres militants syndicaux viennent de l’entreprise de bus Capitol Bus Company, qui aurait licencié les conducteurs parce qu’ils avaient essayé de créer un syndicat. Kong Athit affirme que sa situation n’est pas un cas isolé...

Les poursuites judiciaires engagées par les entreprises à l’encontre des syndicalistes et d’autres défenseurs des droits humains sont en hausse sur l’ensemble du globe, selon un rapport récemment publié par le Centre de Ressources sur les Entreprises et les Droits de l’Homme, établi à Londres (BHRRC, ou Business & Human Rights Resource Centre). Ce rapport, intitulé Défendre les défenseurs : Contester les actions en justice malveillantes en Asie du Sud-Est, recense également des zones à risque en matière de harcèlement judiciaire en Amérique centrale, en Europe de l’Est et en Russie. Il précise que le nombre de cas signalés a augmenté de 48 % en moyenne par an depuis 2015 à l’échelle planétaire, pour atteindre 84 % l’an passé...

Sutharee Wannasiri, chercheuse et consultante sur les droits humains, a elle-même fait l’objet de trois accusations après avoir partagé sur les médias sociaux une vidéo qui avait été réalisée par son employeur d’alors, l’ONG Fortify Rights. Sutharee Wannasiri et d’autres personnes avaient enquêté sur le cas de 14 travailleurs migrants qui avaient publiquement révélé avoir subi de graves violations du droit du travail dans un élevage de volailles de l’entreprise Thammakaset.

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8 June 2020

Asia & Europe: Strategic lawsuits are on the rise, causing breakdown of trust between rights defenders & business, but more alliances are needed

Author: Jennifer Hattam, Equal Times

"See you in court: a rise in legal attacks against rights defenders aims to silence corporate critics", June 8, 2020

Kong Athit … Cambodian union leader faces criminal charges … brought against Athit and three other labour activists by Capitol Bus Company… Legal attacks by companies on trade union organisers and other human rights defenders are on the rise globally, according to a recent report by the London-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)… Human rights researcher and consultant Sutharee Wannasiri found herself facing three such charges... [for] investigating the case of 14 migrant workers who had gone public with claims of have suffered serious labour abuses on a poultry farm operated by the Thammakaset Company… Thammakaset has filed a total of 36 legal cases against people who have tried to bring attention to its alleged labour-rights violations… Activist Andy Hall, another human rights defender targeted by Thammakaset … has spent years fighting criminal and civil defamation suits filed by pineapple company Natural Fruit over a report he researched in 2013 on alleged abuses at the firm’s canning operation… The Finnish retailing cooperative S Group … supported Hall in his legal battle with Natural Fruit… Engaging the power of the consumer, and leveraging the corporate social responsibility principles adopted by international companies, is another key strategy. “There’s been a complete breakdown of trust between human rights defenders and corporations, but we need to find allies among them to do our work most effectively,” says Hall... 

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8 June 2020

Thailand: Acquittal of two women rights defenders sued by poultry producer Thammakaset

Author: The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia

"Thailand: UN Human Rights Office welcomes acquittal of human rights defenders", 08 Jun 2020

The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia welcomed the acquittal... of two...defenders who had been charged with criminal defamation by Thai poultry producer Thammakaset. The Bangkok Criminal Court reached a verdict in the case against Nan Win, a former migrant worker..., and Sutharee Wannasiri, a Thai... defender who formerly worked with...Fortify Rights... Companies in Thailand have long been criticized for employing...“strategic lawsuits against public participation,”... to silence...civil society organizations and... defenders. “This judgement shows how individuals raising legitimate concerns about alleged business abuses can be protected from SLAPP cases in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles...,” said... the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok. In December 2019, Thailand become the first Government in Asia to adopt a [NAP]. Protecting... defenders from SLAPP cases is one of the four key priorities...  The defamation case against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri is just one of many... lodged against... defenders and workers by Thammakaset and other business enterprises in Thailand. The majority of SLAPP cases filed in Thailand in 2019 were against women... defenders. “These cases have created an atmosphere of fear, self-censorship and have added to stress, undue financial burden, and concerns for personal safety. It is critical that the protective measures outlined under Thailand’s [NAP] are... implemented and the practice of SLAPP is eliminated,” [OHCHR] said... 

Thai version of the article is available in the original source.

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12 March 2020

Thailand: UN experts condemn abuse of judicial system by Thammakaset to harass human rights defenders

Author: UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights & 5 Special Rapporteurs

"Thailand: judicial system abused by business to silence human rights defenders – UN experts", 12 March 2020

A group of UN experts* have condemned the continued misuse of judicial processes by Thai poultry producer Thammakaset to harass and silence human rights defenders who have spoken out against its abusive and exploitative labour practices.

“We are deeply troubled by the information we continue to receive about migrant workers, human rights defenders, academics and journalists facing ill-founded defamation cases by the company Thammakaset when they raise legitimate concerns about working conditions in this company,” the experts said.

In the last year alone, the Thai company has filed criminal and civil defamation complaints against 10 individuals who have exposed human rights abuses against migrant workers in this company. Six of the individuals facing trial are women. If found guilty those accused face heavy fines and possible prison sentences...

The UN experts expressed their deep concern that these cases may have a “chilling effect” on the legitimate work of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society actors...

The Thai Government and all relevant business enterprises must act now to stop judicial harassment...

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Author: Bangkok avec Reuters

Suchanee Cloitre, journaliste de la télévision thaïlandaise, a été condamnée mardi par la Cour de Lopburi pour un post publié sur Twitter à propos d’un scandale agroalimentaire impliquant l’entreprise thaïlandaise d’élevage de poulets, Thammakaset, a indiqué, le 24/12, jour de la sentence, son avocat, Woraporn Uthairangsee. 

"Je suis choquée, je ne pensais pas que la peine serait aussi sévère", a déclaré la jeune femme à l’issue du jugement. 

Le message incriminé, posté en septembre 2017, accompagnait un "retweet" du militant pour les droits des migrants en Thaïlande, Andy Hall, au sujet d’une plainte déposée en 2016 par un groupe de travailleurs birmans auprès de la Commission nationale thaïlandaise des droits de l'homme sur les conditions de travail à la ferme Thammakaset...

En janvier dernier, Thammakaset a perdu son ultime recours auprès de la justice thaïlandaise qui a ordonné que l’entreprise verse une compensation aux plaignants, après avoir précédemment rejeté une action en diffamation intentée par cette dernière contre les travailleurs.

"Il n’existe aucun argument juridique significatif provenant de l’entreprise", avait alors déclaré la Cour suprême dans son ordonnance, rejetant l’appel.

Thammakaset, qui a toujours nié les accusations, a néanmoins intenté des poursuites en diffamation contre une vingtaine de journalistes et militants dans le cadre de cette affaire...

Cette affaire illustre la grande difficulté d'exercer librement son activité de journaliste dans un pays classé 136ème sur 180 dans le classement 2019 de liberté de la presse par Reporters Sans Frontières...

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24 December 2019

Thai reporter gets jail in libel case filed by poultry farm

Author: Busaba Sivasomboon and Grant Peck, Star Tribune

A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a reporter to two years in prison for criminal libel for a comment she tweeted about a labor abuse grievance at a poultry farm.

The case against Suchanee Cloitre, then working for Voice TV, is one of 20 lawsuits launched by Thammakaset Co. against 25 workers, activists and journalists.

Critics such as Human Rights Watch say these types of libel cases are meant to deter lawsuits filed in the public interest, such as by labor activists and environmentalists. They decry criminal libel laws as especially open to abuse. So-called "strategic litigation against public participation" lawsuits are meant to intimidate, since they often pit corporations with strong financial and legal resources against individuals and groups operating on shoestring budgets.

The Lopburi provincial court in central Thailand freed Suchanee on 75,000 baht ($2,490) bail after sentencing her. She will appeal the verdict, said her lawyer, Waraporn Uthairangsee.

"I am so shocked. I never thought that it would be such a very harsh verdict," Suchanee, who now works for a Thai television station, told The Associated Press. "I was doing my duty as a journalist in reporting what has happened, I didn't intend to harm anyone."

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24 May 2019

Fact sheet: Thammakaset vs. human rights defenders and workers in Thailand

Author: The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Since the May 2014 coup d’état, Thailand’s human rights record has dramatically deteriorated. Military rule has had a wide-ranging, negative impact on the country’s human rights situation, particularly through the imposition of numerous orders and announcements issued by the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). These decrees and other repressive legislation, such as the Public Assembly Act, the Computer Crimes Act, and various provisions of the Criminal Code, including ‘defamation’ and ‘sedition’ have been frequently used to target human rights defenders, including lawyers, pro-democracy activists, journalists, and community-based defenders...

Harassment by Thammakaset:

At least 14 cases, 22 defendants Since 2016, Thammakaset Co., Ltd., a poultry farm in Lopburi Province, Thailand,1 has used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and silence human rights defenders and workers who exposed exploitative working conditions at its poultry farm. Thammakaset has filed complaints with the police, the Criminal Court, and the Civil Court against at least 22 individuals – including its workers, human rights defenders, and two reporters – for alleged defamation of the company. Despite advocacy and other actions undertaken by a number of European companies in support of various defendants in cases filed by Thammakaset, the company’s harassment against human rights defenders and workers has persisted - a fact that reveals the need for stronger action to curb these attacks...

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24 May 2019

THAILAND: Thammakaset must end its judicial harassment of human rights defenders

Author: FIDH

Thai company Thammakaset must immediately end all acts of harassment against human rights defenders and workers for exposing labour rights violations at its poultry farm, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH-OMCT partnership), urges today. The Observatory makes its call on the eve of the start of the trial against human rights defenders (HRDs) Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, a human rights specialist from Thailand, and Mr. Nan Win, a former worker at the Thammakaset farm, from Myanmar.

In conjunction with its call, the Observatory is releasing a 13-page fact sheet that details the 14 criminal and civil cases filed by Thammakaset against a total of at least 22 defendants, including HRDs, workers, and two reporters, for alleged defamation of the company. Ms. Sutharee and Mr. Nan Win will appear before the Criminal Court of Bangkok for the first hearing of Thammakaset’s criminal defamation complaint against them on May 24, 2019...

“The ongoing attacks by Thammakaset against human rights defenders endanger Thailand’s reputation as a global exporter of food products. The Thai authorities and Thammakaset’s stakeholders must act urgently to ensure that the company immediately withdraws all complaints filed against defenders and workers, and upholds its responsibility to respect human rights.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

The Observatory also calls on Thai judicial authorities to dismiss all existing cases filed by Thammakaset against the HRDs and workers for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression and to ensure that no further legal actions against them are pursued...

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14 March 2019

Thailand: Supreme Court to consider Thammakaset’s appeal re payment of 1.7 million Thai Baht to compensate 14 ex-workers over labour rights abuses

Author: Fortify Rights

"Thailand: End Judicial Harassment of Human Rights Defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri", 12 Mar 2019

Thai authorities should protect human rights defenders from judicial harassment and immediately drop defamation complaints brought by poultry company Thammakaset Company Limited against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri for their involvement promoting labor rights in Thailand, Fortify Rights said today...

Today, Thailand’s Supreme Court will also consider an appeal filed by Thammakaset challenging an order to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (US$51,470) in compensation to 14 former Thammakaset employees for labor rights violations. In January, the Supreme Court rejected a separate appeal by Thammakaset challenging the compensation order.

“Enough is enough—the complaints by Thammakaset against human rights defenders should be dropped and the order to provide compensation for labor rights violations should be enforced immediately,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thailand needs to take proactive steps to protect human rights defenders from reprisals and employees from labor rights violations.”

On February 14, 89 organizations, including Fortify Rights, submitted a joint letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha calling on the Thai government “to take immediate action to oppose and seek the dismissal of cases filed by Thammakaset” and to develop legislation “that fully protects employees, human rights defenders, and others from judicial harassment.”...

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14 March 2019

Thailand: Supreme Labour Court upholds decision on compensation of 1.7 million baht by Thammakaset to 14 Myanmar farm workers over labour exploitation

Author: Bangkok Post (Thailand)

"Myanmar farm workers get B1.7m", 13 Mar 2019

...The Central Labour Court, also known as the Supreme Labour Court, issued a statement confirming that it has ordered Thammakaset Farm to pay the 14 plaintiffs this much in damages...

The migrant workers sued their former employer in 2016 for not paying their full salaries or overtime and subjecting them to unreasonable working conditions, including depriving them of their passports.... 

The 1.7 million baht was deposited with a lower court at the end of last year, when the Region 1 Labour Court ordered the company to pay that much in liability. 

Thammakaset appealed but the Central Labour Court upheld the decision on Tuesday. It found the defendant had violated the civil law for paying salaries below the legal requirement and neglecting to pay...

It found the defendant had violated the civil law for paying salaries below the legal requirement and neglecting to pay overtime, but was not guilty of any human rights violations...

Thammakaset Farm denied the charges and launched a defamation lawsuit, saying the workers voluntarily worked nights and chose to sleep where they did.

Betagro, a major Thai exporter in this industry said later it had cut ties with the farm.

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