One of Thailand’s largest poultry export firms has suspended its agreement with a chicken farm after allegations of abuse by Burmese migrant workers.
Food giant Betagro issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “stopped business operations with the farm until there is a solution for the labour conflict.”
The statement was in response to a complaint made by 14 workers who allege they have been severely underpaid and exposed to slave-like workplace conditions at the Thammakaset Farm 2 in Lopburi Province, some 100 kilometres north of Bangkok.
In a report first made to an advocacy group Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), one migrant, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed she had worked from 7am to 5pm and then from 7pm to 5am, and was only allowed to take three days off after 35 consecutive days of labour. Her case attracted attention when she was arrested and held in prison for allegedly “stealing” her timecard, which she intended to use as proof of maltreatment.
MWRN international representative Andy Hall said, “We never asked the company [Betagro] to suspend ties. We never asked people to stop buying–we asked them to find a solution and develop a better situation for the future.”
Hall told DVB that a complaint had been lodged at the labour protection office, but so far MWRN had received no response from the farm in question.
“Our key concern at the moment is compensation for the workers,” said Hall.
The labour rights activist said that several workers have experienced troubles when lodging their complaints to officials. Hall said, “The officials were told many times that their [migrants’] documents were confiscated but they didn’t put it in the official statement. So we are going to correct that.”
Hall added that his group has initiated talks with Thailand’s national poultry exporting association as this incident reflects the “systematic challenge” of properly auditing the poultry industry.
He said MWRN is calling on Thai authorities to crack down on employers reported to be exploiting their workers.
During an official visit to Thailand last week by Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, she singled out employment brokers for mistreating migrant workers. Many recruitment agencies are widely accused of charging migrant workers steep fees for job placements, which exposes them to “debt bondage”.
The 14 migrant workers are each seeking 300,000 baht ($8,500) in compensation for years of alleged abuses. The workers say they want to receive their compensation before returning home to Burma.