Betagro & Thammakaset lawsuits (re labour exploitation in Thailand)

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 response to the claim, the owner of Thammakaset 2 filed a defamation lawsuit against the workers and Andy Hall in October 2016.  In August 2017, the Don Muang Court accepted Thammakaset's 14 workers criminal defamation case for full trial. In October 2017, the 14 workers pleaded not guilty to the defamation charges and were released. On 7 February 2018, the three day defamation trial commenced in the Don Muang Court.  On 11 July 2018, the court dismissed criminal defamation charges against the 14 workers. Two of the workers have been prosecuted for criminal theft in relation to alleged theft of their time cards from their employer to show 20+ hour work days. On 2 September 2018, the Lopburi Court refused to proceed with their prosecution.

In a separate case, 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.

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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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12 February 2019

Thailand: 89 groups urge gov't to oppose new cases filed by Thammakaset against human rights defenders

Author: 89 International and National Organisations

"Open Letter re New Lawsuits Brought by Thammakaset Company Limited Against Human Rights Defenders," 14 February 2019

Dear Prime Minister Prayut,

The 89 undersigned organizations write to express our deep concern regarding recent spurious complaints brought by Thammakaset Company Limited against several human rights defenders in Thailand.

We respectfully urge the Thai government to take immediate action to oppose and seek the dismissal of cases filed by Thammakaset that run counter to your government’s proclaimed policy to support business and human rights as well as Thailand’s interests, legal obligations, and international human rights law commitments.

To date, Thammakaset—a Thai-owned poultry company in Lopuri Province—has filed no fewer than 13 criminal and civil complaints against a number of human rights defenders, including former employees. While Thai authorities and courts have dismissed most of the complaints, some are still pending and, in November 2018, a company representative pledged to bring more complaints.

Thammakaset recently brought additional legal complaints against human rights defenders involved in publicly reporting on labor rights abuses and employer reprisals against the workers. As of October 2018, Nan Win, a former Thammakaset employee, faces new criminal defamation charges for speaking out on the alleged labor abuses and reprisals against the 14 former employees in a film produced by the human rights organization Fortify Rights and during a Facebook-live press conference that Fortify Rights organized. Sutharee Wannasiri, a former human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, also faces criminal and civil defamation charges for sharing Fortify Rights’ film on social media. The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to consider the complaints against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri on February 4 and March 11, 2019, respectively, and the Civil Court scheduled hearings in August 2019 to consider the civil complaint against Sutharee Wannasiri.

We are alarmed that Thai authorities are proceeding to investigate and prosecute these complaints by Thammakaset, particularly after the Don Mueang Sub-District Court has already dismissed similar criminal defamation charges in July 2018 brought by the company against the same 14 former employees. These new charges filed by Thammakaset constitute harassment by the company that waste valuable time and resources of police, prosecutors, and judicial officers.

To prevent future SLAPP lawsuits like those filed by Thammakaset, we recommend that Thailand develop comprehensive anti-SLAPP legislation that fully protects workers, human rights defenders, and others from judicial harassment...Thailand should also decriminalize defamation and end imprisonment or fines as a penalties for acts of defamation.

We urge the Thai government to follow the recommendation provided by a group of six United Nations human rights experts in May 2018 to “revise its civil and criminal laws as well as prosecution processes to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies.”...We encourage the Thai government to incorporate these recommendations into Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and also ensure meaningful consultations with Thai civil society on developing and implementing the National Action Plan.


Note from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: Click on "Download the full document" to read the Thai version of the letter and click on the link to access the full version of the open letter.  To know more about these cases, you can follow our stories here and here


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15 January 2019

Thai top court orders compensation for Myanmar workers in landmark case

Author: Rina Chandran, Reuters

Thailand’s highest court…ordered compensation be paid to 14 migrant workers from Myanmar whose accusations against a chicken farm of abuses sparked a landmark legal case for migrant laborers. 

The workers in 2016 officially complained to Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission about forced overtime, being paid less than the minimum wage, confiscation of passports, and limited freedom of movement. 

But employer Thammakaset farm, which had supplied meat to Thai food conglomerate Betagro, denied the charges and launched a defamation lawsuit, saying the workers voluntarily worked nights and chose to sleep next to the chicken warehouse. 

Betagro, which sells to companies around the globe, later said it had cut ties with the farm.

After a three-year legal battle, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court verdict from 2016 which found in favor of the workers and ruled they must be paid 1.7 million baht ($53,000) in compensation…

A lawyer for the workers said they welcomed the verdict in a country that has been at the center of a slew of slavery and human trafficking cases, including in its seafood sector…

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14 August 2018

Thailand: Thammasaket Poultry Farm files fifth set of criminal charges against former migrant workers

Author: Migrant Workers Rights Network via Andy Hall

"Thammakaset Poultry Farm Files Fifth Set of Criminal Charges in Thailand, Prosecutes Former Myanmar Migrant Workers Again for Theft", 13 August 2018

Today two of 14 migrant workers from Myanmar, who alleged suffering labour and human rights abuses whilst working at Thammakaset Farm Co. Ltd. poultry farm in Lopburi Province of Thailand, reported alongside lawyers from NSP Legal Office to give statements at Khok Dtum police station in the province. This follows the farm's filing of a fifth set of criminal charges in relation to an ongoing dispute against them, other workers and NGO activists...If convicted of the latest criminal charges filed by Thammakaset on 1st August 2018 under section 335 (11) of Thailand's Criminal Code, the two workers face up to five years in prison and/or a 100, 000 baht fine...This increasingly publicised SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) case has seen Thammakaset already file two separate criminal cases against the 14 workers for defamation, giving false information to public officials and theft. Both cases, dismissed by a first instance Court and Lopburi Public Prosecutor respectively, are still however being pursued on appeal and through private prosecutions by Thammakaset within the Thai justice system...In addition, Thammakaset has filed three additional criminal cases against the workers, NGO activists and has also threatened more prosecutions including against local Thai journalists.

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11 July 2018

Thailand: Court dismisses criminal defamation charges against 14 Myanmar workers

Author: Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation News

"Thai court dismisses charges against Myanmar workers in landmark case", 11 July 2018

A court in Bangkok on Wednesday dismissed criminal defamation charges against workers from Myanmar who had accused a chicken farm of abuses, in a landmark ruling seen as a rare victory for migrant workers' rights in Thailand.  The case was triggered by a complaint that 14 workers filed to Thailand's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2016 about forced overtime, being paid under the minimum wage, confiscation of passports, and limited freedom of movement.  The workers were charged in October in a first-of-its-kind criminal defamation case, which prompted campaigners to urge better protection for migrant labourers who complain about working conditions.  On Wednesday, a judge said he believed that the workers filed the NHRC complaint against the Thammakaset chicken farm in "good faith", and without false information...Their former employer, Thammakaset farm, which supplied the Thai food conglomerate Betagro, denied the charges from the outset and launched a lawsuit against the workers, saying the complaint has damaged its reputation...Wednesday's verdict will help bolster the rights of migrant workers in the country, said Sutharee Wannasiri at the advocacy group Fortify Rights...

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11 July 2018

Thammakaset v Ton Ton Win et al. - Judgement [unofficial translation]

Author: Don Muang District Court (Thailand)

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7 February 2018

Criminal defamation trial against 14 migrant workers who reported abuse begins in Thailand

Author: Finnwatch (Finland)

Thai authorities must take decisive action to protect freedom of speech and migrant worker rights, says Finnwatch as trial against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar on criminal defamation charges begins in Bangkok on 7th February 2018... “In this case, migrant workers are put on trial because the abuse they suffered was made public. It is simply wrong and points to serious problems in Thailand’s defamation laws,” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch. According to the workers’ complaint...they had been forced to work up to 20 hours per day without a day off during 40 or more days. The company also paid the workers less than the minimum wage, provided no overtime compensation, restricted workers freedom of movement and confiscated their identity documents.The NHRCT...confirmed illegally low wages and unpaid overtime... In January 2017, the Thai government set up a committee... to draft a national action plan on...UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. “With more and more of these cases coming to courts, the Thai authorities’ claims that they will make sure that companies in Thailand uphold human rights sound increasingly hollow,” said...Vartiala. “If they are serious about this, they must de-criminalise defamation and protect whistle-blowers without further delay.”

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7 February 2018

Thailand: Burmese Workers on Trial for Reporting Abuses

Author: Human Rights Watch (USA)

The Thai government should publicly oppose in court the criminal defamation charges against 14 Burmese migrant workers for filing a complaint against their employer with Thailand’s human rights commission, Human Rights Watch said...Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, [said]: “The government should publicly oppose the employer’s charges and protect the ability of government agencies to act on complaints of wrongdoing.”... In July 2016, the 14 workers submitted their complaint to the National Human Rights Commission... accusing Thammakaset Co. Ltd. – a chicken farm...– of subjecting them to grueling work conditions. In August 2016, Labor Ministry...ordered Thammakaset to pay the 14 workers compensation of...US$48,600. However, the workers have yet to receive any compensation as the company has appealed the order... Thammakaset filed a criminal defamation complaint in October 2016 against the 14 workers, together with a labor activist from the Migrant Worker Rights Network. “The Ministry of Labor determined the company violated the law and ordered it to pay the workers”... “Shockingly, the company not only refused to pay but is now trying to level criminal charges against their workers for highlighting their plight.”... “The government should not sit still while Thammakaset uses the courts to undermine corporate accountability for labor rights abuses,” Adams said.

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6 February 2018

Statement by Andy Hall on resumption of trial against 14 workers

Author: Andy Hall, migrant worker rights activist & former international affairs advisor to the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN)

‘Tonight I express publicly how deeply disappointed and regretful I feel that the Thammakaset and Betagro chicken farm case controversy has been ongoing now for almost 2 years and, as the 14 former Thammakaset migrant workers from Myanmar stand a criminal trial tomorrow morning in solidarity and without any compensation yet provided to them for alleged abuses inflicted upon them, the end of the controversy...far out of sight.  That this criminal trial will indeed start tomorrow is a deeply disturbing situation that in no way benefits anyone... and indeed cannot but reflect poorly on Thailand and its major food processing export industry times of rapid and sometimes positive change in migrant worker conditions in Thailand. This case controversy continues to cast...a dark shadow over the positive reforms in migration management that have been enacted in Thailand in recent years by both the government and industry actors... I... thank tonight the President of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand for his attempts to informally negotiate a settlement to this dispute, on my request, that could have avoided tomorrow’s trial, despite this negotiation process...ultimately proving unsuccessful so far...This case is one that remains deeply felt in my heart, because of my previous involvement with the 14 workers, and despite the fact that I couldn’t for many reasons attend the trial tomorrow in Thailand...’

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