Migrant Workers in Thailand

Thailand has more than 3 million men and women migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Most of them are from Myanmar (Burma), a country which, with its long history as a military dictatorship, has widespread poverty and few jobs. Thailand, in turn, has a great need for manpower. The food industry is an important sector, and Thailand is a major exporter of fish, poultry, ready meals, canned and dried fruit to Europe, including to Axfood and Martin & Servera.

Because of corruption and weak regulatory systems, it is common that migrant workers are discriminated against, tricked and put in debt to illegal recruitment agents or dishonest employers. The worst reports have focused on the fishing and seafood industry, where human trafficking, slavery, kidnapping and even murder is systematic. In recent years, the preserved food industry and poultry industry have also generated frequent reports of poor working conditions.

Discrimination, corruption and weak laws are systemic issues that take time to change. However, governments and companies that deal with Thailand can put pressure on the Thai authorities — and to make demands on partners and suppliers for improved conditions for migrant workers.

Axfoundation is committed to the issue with a focus to examine and advance initiatives that can strengthen the rights of migrant workers and improve their working conditions in Thailand. In the early summer of 2016, Axfoundation, Axfood and their suppliers visited several factories and a migrant workers’ organization in central Thailand and in Rangoon, Myanmar. The aim was to get a clearer picture of the problems in their own supply chain, and identify the national system of rules and laws that apply—of which there are several that overlap.

Axfoundation is pushing the issue forward in a broader sense for Swedish food businesses with value chains in Thailand. “Employers Pays Principle”, which is based on the idea that the employer should pay all recruitment costs, is one of several initiatives that can change the situation for migrant workers in Thailand, both in the short and long term. Other steps that may lead to improvements include sustainable procurement processes, active dialogue with suppliers, efficient and transparent audits and training at the factory level.

For further information, please contact viveka.risberg@axfoundation.se.

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