Burmese Migrant Workers File Lawsuit Against Thai Export Giant

By Saw Yan Naing 2 September 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A group of 14 Burmese migrant workers took legal action against Thai poultry exporter Betagro on Friday at a labor court in Saraburi Province, northeast of Bangkok, alleging years of forced labor.

According to a press release by several rights groups acting in support of the workers, a petition of more than 45,000 signatures from various activists was also handed over to the Thai Broiler Processing Exporter Association—of which Betagro is a member—at CP Tower in Bangkok.

“The litigation claimed 46 million baht (US$1.33 million) in compensation and civil damages for abuses suffered by the workers for years at the poultry farm in Thailand’s Lopburi province,” read the statement.

The workers filed the litigation after deciding previous compensation worth 1.7 million baht (US$50,000) was insufficient for up to five years of work under what they describe as abusive conditions. The previous compensation was made on August 1 by Lopburi Department of Labor Protection and Welfare.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Friday, Andy Hall, international affairs advisor for the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), said of the migrant workers, “They were forced to work many years against their will. And they earn little money. Betagro is a very big corporation—they need to be held responsible for this.”

“We disagreed with that [previous] order [for compensation] because they rewarded workers for only two to four hours of overtime. The workers said they work up to eleven hours as overtime. That’s why we filed the case,” said Hall.

Betagro delivers its products across Thailand as well as to international markets, particularly those in Europe and Japan. The firm’s business focuses on agriculture, livestock, and manufacturing ready-made meats and frozen cooked food for export. It also exports pet food to the United States, Canada and Australia.

According to the rights groups, the workers allege grueling workdays stretching to 20 hours and forced overtime including sleeping in chicken rearing areas overnight. The workers also claimed they were abused by owners such through the threats, confiscation of personal identity documents, and the deduction of salaries.

In addition to urging the Thai Broiler Processing Exporters Association to encourage Betagro to compensate the 14 workers in question, the 45,000-signature petition also called for an investigation into poor working conditions to ensure there is no more “modern day slavery.”