The defamation trial of 14 migrant workers from Myanmar who spoke out about labor abuses on a Thai poultry farm began this Wednesday in Bangkok. Observers say this case is an effort to silence whistleblowers.
The migrant workers went to the national human rights commission back in 2016 to file a complaint against Thammakaset, the company that owns the poultry farm they worked at in Lopburi province. They reported that they were subjected to harsh living conditions and labor exploitation.
Thammakaset, in retaliation, sued the workers for criminal defamation and giving false information to public officials — crimes that carry jail terms of up to 1.5 years.
The Straits Times reports:
The labourers said they were forced to work gruelling 20 hour days without compensation for overtime among other abuses on the farm owned by Thammakaset, a company that supplied meat to the Thai food conglomerate Betagro.
Betagro, a food giant that sells to clients around the globe, later cut ties with the supplier farm.
“The workers just filed a complaint because they thought their rights were violated and asked for an independent body to investigate,” defence lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat told AFP ahead of the hearing.
“This case shouldn’t happen,” he added.
Millions of migrant workers come to Thailand from neighboring countries — primarily Myanmar — to work aboard fishing vessels and in farms and factories.
Thailand does not allow migrant workers to form trade unions, however, and those who do speak out against abuses are often fired or prosecuted under defamation laws.
Human rights groups said this was a clear case of employers retaliating against workers who spoke up.
“These types of cases are all too common in Thailand. They’re a mark of the high costs paid by whistle-blowers and truth-tellers for simply exercising their right,” said Amy Smith from Fortify Rights.