Global brands pay off migrant workers in Thailand after wages exposé


A group of illegally underpaid migrant workers in Thailand are set to receive compensation worth about 3 million baht (US$99,000) after a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in September 2019 uncovered the wage abuse.

The garment workers from Myanmar who made products for major brands such as Starbucks and Walt Disney Co at factories located in the western region of Mae Sot, were paid less than the daily minimum wage of 310 Thai baht (US$10.15).

Kanlayanee Ruengrit, the owner of one of the factories raided last year by officials, was sued in August  by a group of 26 workers for failing to pay the 3.5 million baht owed to them.

The lawyer representing the migrants, Jirarat Moonsiri, from the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), said the workers agreed to a settlement this month worth 1 million baht.

“It was clear this was the maximum amount the owner could offer, which is why the workers agreed to accept,” said Jirarat.

Kanlayanee – who closed her business following the raid – could not be reached for comment.

Interviews with workers by NGOs found that they were making goods for companies from Universal Studios to Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco. The brands said her factory had been subcontracted by their suppliers or partners without permission.

Disney, Starbucks and Tesco this week confirmed the workers would receive compensation – either directly or via the brands’ suppliers which sourced from Kanlayanee’s factory.

“The case shows that at the end of the day, brands are not able to deny their responsibility (for workers),” said Suchart Trakoonhutip, a coordinator at MAP Foundation, which has supported the workers and been in discussion with the companies.

Located 500 km (310 miles) from the capital Bangkok, Mae Sot is the main entry point into western Thailand and a trade hub home to about 430 factories and at least 44,500 workers – mainly migrants seeking to make money to send back to their families.

Last year, labour ministry official Somboon Trisilanun said Mae Sot – which is part of a special economic zone (SEZ)- was a “black hole” as many factories there were difficult to inspect.

HRDF and MAP Foundation estimate less than a dozen factories paid minimum wage based on research and interviews in the area.

Ilona Kelly, a coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) – a global pressure group – said the money was “life-changing” for the workers but that their struggle for compensation could have been resolved last year.

“If brands took responsibility for their supply chains, these 26 workers would not have faced such extreme hardship as they fought for their rights,” said Kelly. “It will be a true victory once the workers receive the full amount owed to them. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)