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Major tuna exporting companies could be linked to a poultry farm that is facing allegations of abusing Burmese migrant workers, according to a migrant rights advocacy group.
The vice-president of Thailand’s second-largest tuna export company, Dr. Chanintir Chalisarapong, of Unicord-Seavalue and president of the Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA), has stated that Betagro poultry was a major ingredient of petfood provided to Thailand’s major tuna factories including Seavalue and TU.
“Dr Chanintr pledged that the TTIA would take urgent action. He agreed the conditions in chicken farms clearly remain too poor and action must be taken to bring change,” said Andy Hall, the international representative of the Bangkok-based Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), following a meeting with Chanintir on Thursday.
According to Hall, Chanintr warned TTIA members of the risks of sourcing chicken meat from Betagro, which last week cut ties with the farm amid concerns about its treatment of workers.
The concerns stem from a complaint made by 14 workers who allege they were exposed to slave-like workplace conditions at the Thammakaset Farm 2 in Lopburi Province, which is currently being investigated by police.
“From the start, Betagro said they were just one of the buyers from this farm and that there were others also buying from the farm,” Hall told DVB on Friday.
“We have also received emails from different retailers in Europe, so we also need to find out who the others are and put pressure on them, as Betagro is just one buyer,” added Hall.
Hall predicted that the scandal would affect a wide supply chain: “Most people buying pet food are going to be linked to this system one way or another, as chicken is one of the ingredients.”
Japan and the European Union are the major buyers of Thailand’s prepared or processed poultry, accounting for 41 and 38 percent, respectively, of the country’s exports of chicken meat products in 2014.
The workers accuse the farm’s owner of paying them just 230 baht (about US$6) — below the Thai daily minimum wage of 300 baht — to work for more than 15 hours a day. They also claim they had to pay 1,600 baht a month for accommodation that required them to sleep in an area with live chickens. The owner also allegedly confiscated their passports.
On Thursday, MWRN and representatives of the 14 migrant workers submitted a letter to Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which pledged to launch an urgent investigation into this case.
Compensation negotiations were set to begin today, but were called off when the workers’ former employer called for more time to prepare.
The workers have stated that they won’t agree to accept anything less than the compensation they are entitled to.
A formal compensation claim has already been submitted to local authorities, but under Thai law, workers can only claim compensation for a maximum of two years — far less than the five years that some workers were employed at the farm.
Hall said the workers are hoping for a quick resolution.
“The workers don’t want to wait any longer than necessary to go through lengthy legal procedures in Thailand as they have not seen their families in many years,” he said.