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Modern-day slavery at Thai poultry farms risks 'polluting' supply chain

Oscar Rousseau

By Oscar Rousseau+

02-Aug-2016
Last updated on 02-Aug-2016 at 14:14 GMT2016-08-02T14:14:12Z

Anti-Slavery International said such abuse 'isn't a surprise'
Anti-Slavery International said such abuse 'isn't a surprise'

Poultry meat importers risk “polluting their supply chains” by relying on Thai producers that abuse workers’ rights and must press them to uphold the law, according to a prominent migrant rights activist.

Companies importing Thai chicken meat must realise they risk polluting their supply chains and they should do much more to put pressure on Thai manufacturers to ensure no forced labour is being used, as well as [put pressure] on the Thai government to implement anti-trafficking policies,” Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International, a non-governmental organisation working out of London.

Former staff at a poultry farm in Thailand claim to have suffered serious abuses at their former workplace, with allegations they were forced to work 22-hour shifts and sleep on floors next to chickens.

The farm, which used to supply poultry to one of Thailand’s prominent chicken exporters, has been reportedly accused of labour abuses by two former employees.

Abuse no ‘surprise’

Allegations include that one migrant worker from Myanmar was forced to work up to 22 hours a day, had his passport seized and was made to sleep on the floor in a room with thousands of chickens.

Such abuse “isn’t a surprise”, said Sobik. He told this site that Thailand’s export-oriented industries, such as fisheries and food processing, had some of the “worst trafficking [offences] in the world”.

The farm under the spotlight is a chicken supplier that, until recently, reportedly supplied one of Thailand’s largest poultry export businesses, Betagro Group. In June this year, Betagro severed ties with the poultry supplier over labour abuse claims, according to reports in Thailand, the UK and Australia.

National case

Separately, Andy Hall, a migrant rights activist based in Thailand, met with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Thailand on 1 August, where evidence on workplace conditions at a poultry farm in Tambon Koketum, Lopburi province, were given.

According to Hall, who represents the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) 14 workers had cases heard by officials at the NHRC.

All 14 workers were questioned by Thai officials and notes from the interviews reveal the workers were only allowed out of the chicken farm once per week to buy food, although this was not always possible as they needed to be supervised. Staff said they lived in fear of pay being withheld or cut and strived to carry out any instructions given to them by management. One worker said they had to manage up to 30,000 chickens individually and faced pay deductions if there were any problems with the birds.

The case has picked up pace in Thailand and has been passed from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the deputy prime minister’s committee on labour abuses, according to MWRN.

On July 7, MWRN submitted a complaint to the NHRC requesting an investigation into rights violations against migrant workers in the Thai poultry industry.

There are an estimated 450,000-500,000 migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Burma forced to work in Thai factories, according to figures from Anti-Slavery International.

The International Poultry Council declined to comment.

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