Police in Thailand have been accused of conducting a sham investigation into forced labor allegations raised by workers at VK Garment Factory (VKG) that produced clothing for the U.K.’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco.
Conclusion reached after one day
Thai authorities conducted interviews with 114 former workers to screen for forced labor. After just one day, a spokesperson from the department of labor protection and welfare concluded that “no forced labor or services were found.”
Workers told the Guardian the interviews were rushed and felt like a tick-box exercise to clear the factory of allegations. They took place simultaneously with 21 interview teams in an open-plan immigration building.
One former ironing worker, Ye Zaw Zo, said he watched as his answer about illegally low pay was deleted from an officer’s screen. He said he told officers he had more to say but they refused to make a note of it. “It was such a waste of time,” he said. “For me, this was a one-sided investigation.”
In December, the Guardian reported that Burmese workers had allegedly been forced to work 99 hours per week in the factory in awful conditions making jeans for Tesco’s F&F clothing brand. VKG is located in Mae Sot, a city that lies on the Myanmar border that has developed reputation for a lack of laws and regulations to protect workers from exploitation.
A landmark lawsuit brought by 130 former VKG workers states that Tesco should have been well aware of the poor conditions in this area and the high risk of forced labor in the factory. The workers are suing Tesco for alleged negligence and unjust enrichment. The factory produced jeans and other garments for Tesco between 2017 and 2020.
This landmark lawsuit is the first of its kind to litigate against a U.K. company in English courts over a garment factory abroad that it doesn’t own.
Oliver Holland at law firm Leigh Day which is bringing the lawsuit said: “Reports of workers having their answers to questions written down then deleted, being cut off from giving full answers, and officers refusing to take notes of their answers suggest that the investigation is purely for appearances, a complete sham with no desire to get to the truth of the conditions faced by our clients.”
We need stronger laws to hold business accountable
This case is indicative of the urgent need for robust mandatory human rights due diligence laws that hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses in their supply chains. That’s why Freedom United is calling for laws around the world that make it much easier for companies to be held to account. Right now companies rarely face any financial, civil, or criminal penalties when environmental or rights abuses are exposed.
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