A clothing factory that made jeans for the Thai branch of the British store Tesco faces criminal charges over its mistreatment of workers.
Myanmar workers were made to work extremely long shifts for unlawfully low pay in deplorable conditions, as revealed by the Guardian in December.
Charges include fraud, illegal use of workers’ bank cards, imposing forced overtime on workers and withholding their immigration documents.
99-hour weeks, wage theft, and rape
VK Garment (VKG) factory is in Mae Sot, a town on the Thai border with Myanmar that runs on migrant labor. It has been dubbed “the wild west of the global supply chain” by David Welsh, Solidarity Center’s Thailand country director.
The factory’s employees report being made to work up to 99-hour weeks. Many were paid as low as around $3.5 per day to work from 8am to 11pm, with only one day off per month.
Workers also told the Guardian that the factory opened bank accounts for them and then took their cards and passwords. This way they could pretend to pay the minimum wage while actually paying illegally low salaries in cash.
Conditions in the factory and the worker accommodation were criminally unsanitary and unsafe. In fact, one of the claimants of the lawsuit is a seven-year-old girl who was raped in the compound while her mother worked late.
This continued systematic and deliberate exploitation, together with the restriction in the freedom of movement through withholding workers’ travel documents, constitutes forced labour.
U-turn for Thai Police after sham investigation
Thai police had already carried out an earlier investigation, but it only took them one day to conclude that nothing illegal had happened. Approximately one month later, the police re-interviewed 52 workers and have now brought charges against the factory.
The police stated that the second interviews established that VKG had indeed committed crimes and that charges were brought at the end of January. They denied that the former investigation had found no breach of law, contradicting a statement made at the time.
Landmark lawsuit against Tesco
Tesco, one of Britain’s most popular grocery chains, now faces a landmark lawsuit in the U.K. from 130 former VKG workers who are suing the company for negligence and unjust enrichment.
The British company sourced jeans from VKG between 2017 and 2020. Tesco claims it would have stopped its relationship with VKG immediately had it identified any issues at the time.
Call for laws to hold companies accountable
In the U.K., like in many countries around the world, a growing coalition of organizations and individuals are calling for a law that holds companies accountable for modern slavery and other environmental and social harms in their value chains.
Call on your representatives to support legislation which obliges business to prevent human rights abuses in their value chain. Sign the petition today.