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Landmark ruling for migrant worker rights in Thailand

July 31, 2018

For years, Thailand has been at the centre of forced labour and human trafficking cases relating to migrant workers, with migrants from Myanmar suffering much of the exploitation. Although workers have been coming forward to report on labour exploitation in recent years, there has been an alarming number of “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP) cases lodged against activists and workers that allege human and labour rights abuses.

In a victory for workers in one such case, on 11 July, a court in Bangkok dismissed criminal defamation charges against workers from Myanmar. The criminal defamation charges were put forward after 14 migrant workers filed a complaint about forced overtime, being paid under the minimum wage, confiscation of passports and limited freedom of movement whilst working at a chicken farm owned by a company called Thammakaset.

The criminal defamation case was the first of its kind against workers, which prompted campaigners to urge better protection for migrant labourers who complain about abusive working conditions. The dismissal of defamation charges was hailed as a landmark victory for migrant workers’ rights.

The Court ruled that, based on all available evidence, it was confident that the workers’ allegations that they suffered serious labour and human rights abuses whilst working at Thammakaset Farm were true and well-founded.

The Freedom Fund has supported this case through our Global Initiative on Legal Strategies to Fight Slavery, which identifies and invests in approaches to institutionalise anti-slavery legal norms, encourage state and private actors to respect their human rights responsibilities and end impunity around slavery.

The chicken farm has also filed other cases against migrant workers alleging theft of time cards and against migrant worker activist Andy Hall for highlighting the cases on social media. These are still on-going.

In addition to providing financial support to the lawyers representing the 14 workers in this case, one of our partners, HRDF, is undertaking research and analysis related to SLAPP cases in Thailand.

Earlier this year, a group of UN experts called on the Thai government to revise its laws to prevent the misuse of defamation legislation by companies.

Photo credit: Lisa Kristine/Freedom Fund

Written by
Sarah Mount
Senior Program Manager