(BANGKOK) – Prosecution of migrant workers and their advocates under criminal defamation laws for reporting violations of Thailand’s labor law violates Thailand’s international legal obligations and business’ obligations to respect human rights under the U.N. Guiding Principles framework, said a coalition of 87 civil society groups, worker organizations, businesses and members of the European Parliament in an open letter sent to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha today. The letter is a reaction to criminal defamation charges brought by Thammakaset Company Limited on October 6, 2016, against 14 poultry farm workers from Myanmar who alleged the company seriously violated their rights. Migrant rights activist Andy Hall also faces criminal defamation charges related to the case.
The 14 migrant workers now face up to one and a half years’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to 30,000 Thai baht (US$900) for criminal defamation and other charges brought by Thammakaset Co. Ltd. Andy Hall is also facing potential imprisonment of up to 7 years and fines up to 300,000 Thai baht (US$9,000) for alleged criminal defamation and violations under the CCA.
“Unscrupulous employers in Thailand are shamelessly using criminal defamation to keep migrant workers vulnerable and exploitable,” said Abby McGill, Campaigns Director at the International Labor Rights Forum. “Thailand is one of the few nations in the world that has bucked the global trend of eradicating these laws. Instead, prosecutions against human rights defenders are on the rise, sending a dangerous chilling effect to workers who would speak out. Thailand must end this practice.”
“Using draconian laws to go after investigators and workers seeking to document how companies in Thailand violate national labor laws and workers’ rights has a chilling impact on research into corporate supply chains,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “If this continues, overseas companies sourcing their products in Thailand may need to re-think whether they want to invest in a country where both the government and local businesses see cracking down on NGOs and unions as acceptable, every day practice. Freedom of expression and association need to be protected if corporate Thailand aspires to success in the 21st century.”
Thammakaset Co. Ltd. alleged that the 14 migrant workers damaged the company’s reputation by filing a complaint on July 7, 2016 to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), claiming that the Company paid less than minimum wage, failed to pay overtime wages, restricted workers freedom of movement and confiscated their identity documents, including passports, violating Thailand’s Labor Protection Act. On August 31, 2016, the NHRCT found that Thammakaset Co. Ltd. failed to pay minimum and overtime wages as well as provide adequate leave to workers, but rejected allegations of forced labor and restrictions on the freedom of movement. The Thai Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court ruling that Thammakaset Ltd. Co. had violated Thailand’s 1998 Labor Protection Act on the chicken farm where the 14 workers were employed and ordered the company to pay the 14 workers 1.7 million Thai baht (US$51,000) in compensation.
If Thailand wishes to be a responsible actor in monitoring supply chains and ensuring compliance with international labor standards, according to the organizations that signed the letter, it should act more decisively to protect the ability of all workers to exercise their fundamental rights and seek just redress for any violations or abuses without fear of retaliation or reprisals. The letter calls on the Thai government to: De-criminalize defamation by amending the Section 326-328 of the Thai Criminal Code, and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act; ensure the right to freedom of expression for workers who report on labor rights abuses allegedly committed by their employers; publicly discourage employer federations and national-level employer congresses from bringing criminal defamation and other unwarranted legal proceedings against migrant workers and human rights activists working to promote and protect human rights in the context of business operations; and amend Sections 88 and 101 of the 1975 Labor Relations Act to permit registered migrant workers to exercise the right to establish and serve in the leadership of a labor union. It further requests greater enforcement of Thai labor law and development of improved human rights policies and practices among Thai companies.
Additional statements on the Thammakaset case:
· From the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia
· From Fortify Rights
· From Human Rights Watch