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. The Supreme court hearing is expected late 2017.

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.

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
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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Article
12 July 2017

Foreign Trade Association calls for out-of-court settlement of defamation lawsuit brought by Thai poultry Thammakaset against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar

Author: Foreign Trade Association

“Subject: Increased partnership in sustainability – Call for out-of-court settlement of the Thammakaset case”, 11 Jul 2017

…The Thammakaset legal case, which started in June 2016 when it was revealed that 14 migrant workers were working under illegal conditions, is an important litmus test. The Thammakaset poultry farm, a sub-supplier of Betagro, triggered legal proceeding against these migrant workers, the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), and Andy Hall in person for alleged defamation and computer crime. The Foreign Trade Association (FTA) and an important number of its members are closely following this legal proceeding. The freedom of expression is a fundamental right and victims of illegal labour practices and human rights defenders need to be able to openly voice their viewpoints and concerns. Therefore, we encourage both parties to fully exploit the possibility of an extra-judicial settlement of the case, as we firmly believe that the path of constructive and open dialogue should be privileged…

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Article
7 June 2017

Thailand: Human Rights Watch calls for criminal defamation charges by Thammakaset Farm against migrant workers to be dropped

Author: Human Rights Watch (USA)

"Thailand: Drop Defamation Charges Against Burmese Workers", 6 Jun 2017

Thai authorities should drop criminal defamation charges against 14 Burmese migrant workers who alleged that their employer violated their labor rights, Human Rights Watch [HRW] said... Proceedings in the case [began] ...on June 7, 2017. “The Thai government should not allow an employer to criminalize these migrant workers for reporting what they describe as...unlawful labor conditions.... The charges against these 14 workers should be dropped, and Thailand’s criminal defamation law should be abolished.” ... HRW’s research has found that..rights of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos working in Thailand have been regularly abused with impunity... Migrant workers frequently receive little or no protection from Thai labor laws despite government assertions that all legally registered migrant workers will be protected... Thailand's criminal defamation law employers with an easy way to retaliate... These lawsuits accuse critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging the company’s reputation.  On May 31, Prime Minister...emphasized the importance of companies...upholding the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.... However, the use of criminal defamation laws is inconsistent with these commitments... “The government is helping to chill the atmosphere for investigations of company supply chains, and is undermining corporate accountability, if it does not protect these 14 migrant workers from retaliation[.]” 

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Article
4 November 2016

Thailand: Labour court hears lawsuit against food company Betagro alleging mistreatment of Myanmar migrant workers

Author: Nyan Lynn Aung, Myanmar Times (Myanmar)

"Thai forced labour case pushed to November 28", 1 Nov 2016

Unsatisfied with the 1.7 million Thai baht (US$48,500) in compensation awarded by the Lopburi Labour Protection and Welfare Office against the poultry farm owner, the workers are seeking 44 million baht from the poultry giant Betagro, which sourced some of its chicken from Thammakaset Farm 2, where the 14 were employed...U Sein Htay, chair of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN)...said the court ordered both sides to come to an agreement on compensation during the hearing but an agreement was not reached.  The Thai court will reconvene on November 28 to issue compensation decisions, he said...The workers claim they were forced to work overtime without pay or breaks.  Their salaries, they said, came to less than minimum wage and were subject to unlawful deductions.  The workers’ movements were also restricted by the farm, they say...

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Article
31 October 2016

Lawsuit filed by poultry workers against chicken grower Thammakaset & buyer Betagro over forced overtime & other abuses tests supply chain responsibility in Thailand

Author: Alisa Tang, Reuters

"Facebook post inspires landmark case for migrant workers in Thailand"

Tun Tun Win and his co-workers from Myanmar thought life was fine at the Thammakaset chicken farm in central Thailand, where they reared hundreds of thousands of birds for export to the European Union...

It was a smartphone and a Facebook post that opened Tun Tun Win's eyes to the severity of his work conditions - and led to a landmark lawsuit pitting migrant workers against a corporation at the top of the food chain

The Facebook post by the local non-profit Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) inspired Tun Tun Win and 13 co-workers to take action.

In a lawsuit filed at a labour court earlier this month following unsuccessful negotiations with the company and local authorities, they are demanding $1.3 million in compensation and civil damages.

The suit alleges forced overtime, unlawful salary deductions, passport confiscation and limited freedom of movement.

Crucially, the action is against both Thammakaset and the buyer of the farm's poultry - agricultural giant Betagro, which exports food worldwide….

Andy Hall, a prominent British human rights activist in Thailand who has consulted on several cases involving migrants, said the litigation was an important test case.

"We're trying to hold Betagro responsible for the system of contract farming," he said. "If we can, it will have huge implications for contract farming and the responsibility of corporate supply chains across Thailand."…

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