Increased pressure on migrant workers in Thailand
2019-05-27: On May 22, the Thai chicken company Thammakaset filed another lawsuit against a former migrant worker from Myanmar. According to Andy Hall, British migrant worker’s activist, this is the 17th case Thammakaset has filed against a total of 23 defendants; former migrant workers, civil society activists and journalists. Axfoundation has been actively involved as a link between several Nordic companies and Andy Hall, as well as between some companies that have chosen to assist 14 of the migrant workers with financial compensation.
Limited freedom of expression: “A Facebook post can lead to prosecution”
This time, the indictment concerns the Burmese Nan Win, who has already been sued for slander after testifying to slave-like working conditions on the chicken farm. However, he was released, and the 14 migrant workers were compensated with 1.7 million baht through a Thai court order in March 2019. Despite this, Thammakaset now chooses to sue Nan Win for false testimony and Nan Win is ordered to appear in court on June 24. If Nai Win is found guilty, he risks imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years and / or a maximum fine of 100,000 Baht.
– Thailand’s criminal law significantly limits freedom of expression for already vulnerable migrant workers. A Facebook post, or as in Andy Hall’s case, an interview in international media, can be enough to be sued for defamation, says Viveka Risberg, responsible for Sustainable Production and Consumption at Axfoundation.
Challenge for retail companies to secure good working conditions
Thailand is the world’s largest food producer and Swedish customers are large consumers of ready-made food and preserves from Thailand. When migrant workers are put under pressure and freedom of expression is restricted, it becomes a great challenge for retail companies to live up to their commitment to secure good working conditions throughout the supply chain. There is no business relationship between Thammakaset and the Nordic companies, however Thammakaset is a sub-contractor whose chickens end up on Swedish plates in the end. Therefore, the question arises; What is the companies’ responsibility when it comes to compensating the affected migrant workers?
Axfoundation and Nordic companies in joint initiative
Axfoundation is involved both in regard to the issue of remedy and in preventative work against trafficking, unethical recruitment and discrimination against migrant workers in Thailand. In 2017, Axfoundation gathered a dozen Nordic companies in a joint initiative; a capacity building project for ethical recruitment and good working conditions at Thai food factories. This was done in collaboration with the tech company QuizRR. The training started in the autumn of 2018. https://axfoundation.se/en/projects/migrant-workers-in-thailand/
– When the 14 migrant workers blew the whistle, we had no solid guidelines on how to support and there were no international references to fall back on. What was the right thing to do and in what order? This was a grey area, with more of a moral responsibility than a legal one. This led us to develop a remedy guide together with Enact and the companies Axfood and Martin & Servera. The guide has in turn provided the basis for internal remuneration routines in these companies, says Viveka Risberg.
Financial support for legal expenses
Axfoundation has also, in collaboration with Axfood, mobilized several Nordic retail companies to contribute financially to the 14 migrant workers. The contribution has been used to cover some of the lawyer fees, fines and bail via a legal representative in Bangkok. The companies have chosen to remain anonymous.