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.  On 31 October 2016, the first hearing took place.  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.  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.  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. 

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.

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Article
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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Article
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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Article
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 actors...in 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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Article
6 February 2018

Thailand: Defamation trial against exploited Myanmar farm workers resumes ahead of UNWG on business & human rights visit

Author: Fortify Rights (Thailand)

"Thailand: Drop Criminal Defamation Lawsuits against 14 Myanmar Workers", 06 Feb 2018

Thammakaset Company Limited should immediately drop criminal defamation charges against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar who alleged serious labor rights violations, and Thai authorities should decriminalize defamation, Fortify Rights said today. The trial is scheduled to commence... tomorrow and is expected to last three days. If convicted, the workers face up to one year in prison... “Thailand should protect migrant workers and rights defenders when they speak out about abuses, and urgently decriminalize defamation,” said...Fortify Rights. “These types of cases are all too common in Thailand. They’re a mark of the high costs paid by whistleblowers and truthtellers for simply exercising their rights.”... On May 31, 2017, Thai authorities and business entities committed to implementing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Among other obligations, the Guiding Principles provide that states should “protect against human rights abuse within their territory and/or jurisdiction by third parties, including business enterprises” and ensure “the legitimate and peaceful activities of human rights defenders are not obstructed.”... The United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises... will undertake its first official visit to Thailand between March and April 2018 to assess Thailand’s implementation of the Guiding Principles...

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Article
5 October 2017

Thailand: 14 migrant workers sued by Thammakaset Farm plead not guilty to defamation charges over forced labour claims

Author: Sasiwan Mokkhasen, Khaosod English (Thailand)

"Migrant Worker Whistleblowers Plead Not Guilty to Defaming Chicken Farm", 4 Oct 2017

Fourteen migrant workers pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of defamation brought by a chicken farm they had accused of labor abuses.

Prosecution of the 14 Burmese defendants on charges brought by Thammakaset Farm, which previously supplied poultry to agricultural conglomerate Betagro, began after they complained to the National Human Rights Commission that they were being forced to work and deprived of their rights…

They entered their pleas today at the Don Mueang Court two weeks after the Supreme Court ordered the company to pay their back wages.

Thammakaset said the complaints were without merit and filed suit alleging the 14 migrant workers had made false and defamatory statements.

Through an interpreter today, all denied the charges against them, which human rights groups say were brought by the farm to silence them for blowing the whistle…

 

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Article
4 October 2017

Thailand: "14 Migrant Workers from Myanmar Alleging Rights Abuses at Thai Poultry Farm to be Arrested on Criminal Defamation Charges Despite Increasing International Outcry"

Author: Migrant Workers Rights Network (Thailand)

Today…Court in Bangkok, Thailand has scheduled for the indictment on two separate criminal charges of 14 migrant workers from Myanmar embroiled in a landmark case in which the workers alleged forced labour…at Thammakaset 2 poultry farm...Thammakaset Company Ltd. filed criminal prosecutions against the 14 workers…alleging offences of criminal defamation...If found guilty of these two offenses... the workers could be imprisoned for up to one and half years and/or fined up to…US$628. As best practice in accordance with the United Nation's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights…two Nordic poultry importers and a Thai poultry exporter will cover bail costs for the 14 workers…Following arrest, indictment and pleas of not guilty at today's court hearing, this contribution should ensure the workers are immediately released temporarily from detention on bail…The full trial…[will] commence in November 2017. The imminent arrest of the 14 workers…attracted considerable international concern including a statement by the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a joint open letter to the Thai Prime Minister…, five UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations have officially sent letters of allegation to the Thai Government...Statements on the case have been issued by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, whilst in an unprecedented open letter, the EU's Foreign Trade Association…called for an 'Out of Court Settlement’... The [ITUC] highlighted the case in a…submission on Thailand’s alleged ongoing breaches of ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour…Last week the Ethical Trading Initiative…was engaged in Bangkok in behind-the-scenes attempts to bring about a negotiated settlement to this dispute in advance of the 14 workers arrest today.

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Article
4 October 2017

Thailand: "Migrant workers indicted as Thai Prime Minister visits United States"

Author: International Labour Rights Forum

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House yesterday, the same week 14 migrant workers in Thailand will be indicted on charges of criminal defamation and giving false information to public officials...The workers are scheduled to be indicted October 4, 2017, in Don Muang Magistrate's Court in Bangkok....A demonstration in support of the workers is planned for 12:30 p.m. October 4, outside the Thai Embassy in Washington,..The case has received international condemnation as a violation of Thailand’s international legal obligations and Thai business’ obligations to respect human rights under the U.N. Guiding Principles framework. The 14 migrant workers now face up to one and a half years’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to 30,000 Thai baht (US$900). Andy Hall is also facing potential imprisonment of up to 7 years and fines up to 300,000 Thai baht (US$9,000) for alleged criminal defamation and violations under the Computer Crimes Act. “This case must be an urgent priority for the Prime Minister’s office, and for U.S.-Thai relations,” said Abby McGill, Campaigns Director at the International Labor Rights Forum. “Prosecutions against human rights defenders have risen dramatically, and the Thammakaset case is only one example of migrant workers and their advocates being punished for speaking out against abuse...

Article
3 October 2017

USA: Groups urge Thai PM to drop criminal cases vs. Myanmar chicken farm workers; Thai and US govts urged to prioritise human rights

Author: Fortify Rights

"United States: Prioritize Human Rights in Thailand", 02 October 2017

Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and United States President Donald Trump should commit to protect the right to freedom of expression, refugee rights, and to combat human trafficking... 

Thailand...continues to fail to protect migrant workers and human rights defenders, which should be a concern for the U.S. government and U.S. investors...

Fortify Rights and 87 civil society organizations recently raised concerns in an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut about 14 Myanmar migrant workers who face criminal prosecution for issuing a complaint about labor rights violations to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. If prosecuted, they face up to one year and six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to... US$895.

...Tungkum Limited, a Thai gold mining company, brought at least 20 criminal and civil lawsuits against media professionals and 33 members of the local community for exposing allegations of environmental problems ...The company has demanded...almost US$9million...in compensation from villagers for allegedly damaging its reputation.

Thai authorities should drop all criminal proceedings against Myanmar migrant workers and provide an enabling environment for human rights defenders to carry out their essential work without fear of retaliation...

Combatting human trafficking should also be on the agenda at the White House...Thailand’s $6.5 billion seafood-export industry has been plagued with trafficked labor for years... 

 

 

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Article
19 September 2017

Thailand: Axfood & global network Ethical Trading Initiative join 85 others in urging Prime Minister to protect the right of workers to report on abuses

Author: Axfood, Ethical Trading Initiative & other organizations

"Criminal Defamation Complaints Brought against Myanmar Migrant Workers and Labor Rights Advocate", 19 Sep 2017

We write to express our deep concern regarding recent criminal defamation charges brought by Thammakaset Company Limited on October 6, 2016, against 14 poultry farm workers from Myanmar who alleged the company seriously violated their rights...We are likewise concerned that Thammakaset Co. Ltd. also filed criminal defamation and computer crimes charges on November 4, 2016 against British labor rights advocate Andy Hall for his commentary on social media concerning the abuse [of] the workers...We, the undersigned organizations, are concerned by the continued use of criminal defamation in Thailand, including the complaints brought by Thammakaset Co. Ltd., which infringes on the right to freedom of expression and obstructs the legitimate work of human rights defenders. We call on the Thai government to decriminalize defamation and immediately take pro-­active steps to protect the rights of these 14 migrant workers, as well as the many other human rights defenders in Thailand who are being targeted with criminal defamation and 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) charges...We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a growing trend of Thai business enterprises using criminal lawsuits to intimidate and obstruct the activism of land and environmental defenders, journalists, workers and labor rights activists, and migrant laborers... [refers to Axfood, Thammakaset Co. Ltd & Ethical Trading Initiative].

Fortify Rights has provided a Thai translation of the letter, available here.

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Article
19 September 2017

Thailand: Supreme Court approves $52,000 compensation for 14 Myanmar workers who reported forced labour conditions at Thammakaset chicken farm

Author: TCIJ (Thailand)

"Supreme Court Approves 1.7 Million Thai Baht (US$52, 000) Compensation Order to 14 Migrant Workers from Myanmar Formerly Subject to Rights Abuses at Thai Export Giant Betagro's 'Thammakaset' Poultry Farm", 15 Sep 2017

14 September, Region 1 Labour Court in Saraburi Province of Thailand read a ruling of the Supreme Court of Thailand approving as final an order of 1.7 million Thai baht in compensation (US$52, 000) to 14 migrant workers from Myanmar. The ruling comes in a landmark test case in which the workers alleged forced labour and other rights violations at Thammakaset chicken farm in Lopburi Province, previously contracted to supply poultry to Thai poultry export giant Betagro.

Today’s ruling dismissed Thammakaset’s second appeal requesting overturning of a 1st August 2016 official compensation order by Lopburi Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW) requiring 1.7 million Thai baht (US$52, 000) in past wages to be paid by the farm to the 14 workers…

The 14 worker’s own litigation, claiming 44 million baht (US$1.25m) in damages and compensation for abuses suffered and filed against Betagro, Thammakaset and Lopburi DLPW officials on 2nd Sept. 2016, also at Region 1 Labour Court, remains pending a final ruling of the Supreme Court expected later this year. The workers consider the DLPW order doesn’t award them adequate compensation for up to 5 years of abusive work conditions…

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