Betagro & Thammakaset lawsuits (re labour exploitation in Thailand)

[This case is being updated]

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.

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."

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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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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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