Thailand: Following suspension of US trade benefits, rights groups urge legal reforms to ensure full enjoyment of worker freedoms

Author: Intl. Labor Rights Forum, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Be Slavery Free, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and others, Published on: 11 December 2019

"Statement on U.S. Government Decision to Suspend Thailand’s Trade Preferences Due to Worker Rights Issues"

On October 25, 2019, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that the U.S. government would suspend $1.3 billion in trade preferences for Thailand under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) based on its “failure to adequately provide internationally-recognized worker rights… such as protections for freedom of association and collective bargaining”. GSP program eligibility will be revoked for 573 products in six months’ time, giving Thailand a unique opportunity to make important reforms and have the trade benefits reinstated...

The Thai government has six months’ time, until April 25, 2020, to make changes to become eligible for trade privileges again in 2021. The Seafood Working Group strongly urges the Thai government and all relevant companies, especially those in the Seafood Task Force, to act quickly and support meaningful reforms that are long overdue.

The Thai government should:

  • Reform the Labor Relations Act and the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act to allow all workers, without distinction, the right to form and lead unions, to collectively bargain, and to strike. The law should afford legal protection for those rights so that workers can exercise them without fear or retribution.
  • Decriminalize defamation under both the Penal Code and Computer Crime Act and enact anti-Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legislation to ensure that that workers and labor rights defenders are not subjected to criminal or civil liability for exercising rights to freedom of expression and speaking out about labor rights abuse.
  • Work together with independent and representative unions and worker organizations to address legal loopholes contributing to worker exploitation and reform laws as needed to adequately protect internationally recognized worker rights and prevent labor exploitation.
  • Resolve all cases of labor rights violations documented by reports from the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and GSP petitions to the USTR from the AFL-CIO.
  • Ratify ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain).

The companies exporting and sourcing seafood products from Thailand, particularly members of the Seafood Task Force, should also do their part by exercising their leadership and influence.

  • International buyers should call publicly on the Thai government to reform relevant labor legislation, including the Labor Relations Act and the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act, to ensure all workers are fully guaranteed internationally recognized rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • International buyers should ensure that suppliers communicate to all workers and their representatives about their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Suppliers should recognize independent and representative worker organizations formed in their workplaces (including migrant worker organizations) and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with them in good faith. Workers should not be terminated or face other retaliation for submitting a request to bargain collectively with employers.
  • Through collaborative efforts with suppliers, international buyers should conduct due diligence of their operations in line with the requirements of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, publicly release the results, and take all steps necessary to prevent and remedy abuses of all workers’ rights in their operations...

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