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Burmese migrants sue Thai export giant over alleged abuses

Activists demand compensation and civil damages for alleged abuses against Burmese migrant workers in the Thai poultry industry. (Photo: Andy Hall / Facebook)

Fourteen Burmese migrant farm workers alleging forced labour on a chicken farm previously contracted to supply poultry to Thai export giant Betagro filed a lawsuit on Friday against the firm, the poultry farm owner and Thai government officials.

The lawsuit claims 46 million baht (US$1.33 million) in compensation and civil damages for alleged abuses suffered by the workers for several years at the poultry farm in Lopburi Province, according to a press statement issued by international activists.

Some 45,285 signatures from international activists, gathered by a Walk Free campaign, were also simultaneously submitted to the Thai Broiler Processing Exporters Association in Bangkok.

Representatives of the 14 workers supported by Stop The Traffik, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) and Finnwatch delivered the campaign signatures.

The statement said the petition called on the poultry association to encourage their member company, Betagro, to ensure that back pay is provided to the 14 workers. The petition also called on Betagro to investigate working conditions throughout its supply chain ensuring effective grievance mechanisms and that there is no more modern-day slavery.

The workers’ litigation, filed on Friday at the Region 1 Labour Court in Saraburi Province, follows a 1 August official compensation order by Lopburi’s Labour Protection and Welfare Office awarding the workers 1.7 million baht ($49,000) in back wages.

The workers consider the order insufficient as it does not award them full compensation for up to five years of abusive working conditions, the statement said.

It also said workers alleged having to endure gruelling work days stretching to 20 hours, forced overtime and other abuses, including having to sleep in chicken-rearing areas overnight.

The 14 workers also alleged unlawful deduction of salaries, threats of further deductions, confiscation of personal identity documents and limited freedom of movement.

Workers said they left the farm for only two hours a week for an accompanied market visit.

Rungroj Tuntivechapikul, vice president of the corporate human resources office at Betagro Group, said in a statement that the company found that findings from two different formal investigations into this particular labour dispute pointed to the same conclusion that the employer did not act in a way that may be deemed as human trafficking or forced labour.