Category Archives: Thailand

Asia Pacific companies need to face up to migrant labor problems

The widespread use of migrant labor in Asia Pacific economies poses increasing business risks for the companies involved — especially those with critical links to global supply chains.

Amid growing demand in the West for higher levels of corporate governance, such businesses need to take urgent action to develop human rights policies and systems that meet internationally-accepted standards. Acting now will help to secure long-term access to Western markets; doing nothing could be costly.

Human rights risks remain high in emerging Asia Pacific economies, where activists have accused many international and regional brands of using forced labor and debt bondage in their factories and operations, particularly in Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Indonesia.

In a recent high-profile case, the Thomson Reuters Foundation claimed to have discovered forced labor, illegal overtime, poor conditions and debt bondage at Malaysian factories owned by Top Glove, an international surgical glove supplier.

The 2018 allegations led to investigations in the U.K., where the National Health Service is a major buyer, and promises of action from the Malaysian government. Top Glove denied the forced labor claims, but admitted that overtime had exceeded national regulations and said it had put in place measures to ensure compliance with Malaysian law.

Yet awareness in the region of the pivotal role that human rights can play in the success or failure of companies remains low, despite the introduction eight years ago of the benchmark-setting United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, which provide guidelines for countries and companies on how to prevent and remedy human rights abuses in business operations.

Even in the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where many of the region’s migrant workers are based, most companies have been slow to respond to the threat. Just 18% of the top 250 listed companies in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia publish human rights policies, according to an ASEAN report published in May.

The report also found that only a quarter of the companies surveyed provide information on monitoring or reporting of human rights. Overall the companies disclose less than 22% of the human rights data recommended by the U.N. guidelines.

Migrant labor experts will not be surprised by these results, which provide clear evidence that many companies in the region are lagging behind global counterparts. A few have taken action, often after comments from NGOs.

For example, Thai Union Group adopted progressive hiring policies toward Myanmar migrant workers employed in its seafood processing factories in Thailand to prevent cases of debt bondage, and boosted monitoring of its supply chain in the fishery sector to eradicate cases of forced labor.

Most companies in the region have not experienced the level of pressure faced by Western counterparts, in part because of the relatively low profile of independent activism in the region and the weakness of many enforcement agencies.

But this is changing as investigative and advocacy groups step up demands for compliance with international human rights and anti-trafficking standards, targeting both regional companies with high profile brands and international companies with regional supply chain links, especially in agribusiness and electronics.

Research shows that much of the abuse of migrant workers happens before their first day at work. Undisclosed recruitment fees charged by agents can plunge workers into heavy debt that they cannot repay during the lifetimes of their contracts.

Once at work they may be subject to poor conditions, high overtime requirements and confiscation of passports. Some are employed by agents and shunted from factory to factory, giving them even less control over their conditions of work.

The solution to this complex situation is for companies to take control of the risks they face, taking steps to protect their reputations, and planning and budgeting in ways that will deliver their business objectives responsibly. Thai Union substantially transformed its hiring practices, shouldering various fees that were previously passed on to workers, and communicated openly about the process.

Most companies have some sort of risk management process, but only a few seem to identify societal and human rights risks adequately. Yet employing migrant labor is a key risk, and companies need to understand how it can impact their businesses and what they need to do to manage it. Companies that simply hire agents to find workers are demonstrating that they do not understand the risk.

A reputation-centered issues management process directed by senior executives is the best way to achieve this. It should be separate from — but integrated with — the risk management process, which is sometimes cluttered by the surface noise of financial and contracting risk.

Management of migrant labor risk starts with recognition of human rights as a corporate value that needs to be delivered through clear, mandatory policies and standards. This also means raising awareness and improving training within the business, particularly at critical points in the organization, such as recruitment, where corruption can be a problem.

The reach of these standards and processes is critical. They need to be adopted throughout the supply chain. It is not acceptable any more for businesses to resort to the use of contractors with different values when it comes to recruiting labor and treating people respectfully.

Transparency and contract fidelity are key risks for companies operating across borders. Independent third-party audits should be an integral part of the monitoring of supply chains, agents and brokers for companies that want to remain part of existing global or regional supply chains.

The most advanced Asia Pacific companies are those that have been through the experience of being targeted by activists, such as the electronic goods manufacturers Panasonic and Samsung and Wilmar International, the Singapore agribusiness group. But maintaining oversight and standards deep in the supply chain remains challenging, even for the best.

Companies must be seen to be doing the right thing. That means transparency, and an open process of reporting standards and performance. Sharing problems externally demonstrates a commitment to improvement and helps boost the overall health of the industry concerned.

Most important, improving human rights performance should not be seen as a business cost. It is an urgent requirement, but for companies that get it right, the benefits will flow straight to the bottom line.

Thailand to return 700 human-trafficking victims

Thailand’s government will send back to Myanmar some 700 victims of human trafficking who have been held in rehabilitation shelters after an identification process, Myanmar and Thai government officials said on Thursday. 

The officials announced the plan at a press conference after the 23rd Myanmar-Thailand Case Management Meeting on the Return and Reintegration of Victims of Trafficking at a hotel in Yangon.

“We are transferring back trafficked victims whose court hearings are over and those who have been confirmed as citizens of their native country. We will transfer them in two or three batches over the course of a year,” said Sunee Srisangatrakullert, director of Thailand’s Division of Anti-Trafficking in Persons.

Sunee said people trafficked to Thailand usually fall into three categories – forced labour, those forced to beg, and women forced into prostitution – and the number of victims from Myanmar has been higher than those from Laos or Cambodia over the past two years.

There about 700 trafficking victims from Myanmar in Thai rehabilitation shelters.

“Of the number, some 600 are presumed to be Myanmar citizens. We will bring home those who have been confirmed as our citizens,” said Ma Khine Su Lwin, assistant director of Myanmar’s Department of Rehabilitation.

Thailand will also return illegal workers from Myanmar caught while trying to transit the country without proper documents to enter Malaysia. Under an agreement between the two countries, the illegal workers will be sent home without having to spend time in jail.

Myanmar and Thailand hold meetings once every six months to address the transfer of trafficking victims in the shortest time possible and protection of their rights.

Up to 20,000 Myanmar workers enter Thailand legally every month for work under an agreement between the two countries. However, an unknown number enter or pass through the country illegally.

Written by Zaw Zaw Htwe
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 13 August 2019
Link: https://www.mmtimes.com/news/thailand-return-700-human-trafficking-victims.html

Safety net failing migrant fishermen

While the European Union (EU)’s decision to lift the yellow-card warning on illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing indicates progress in the country’s efforts to clean up the industry, migrant workers in the Thai seafood supply chain still face unfair employment practices.

This ongoing injustice was highlighted at a recent seminar organised by the Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood, which assessed the situation of migrant workers in the seafood industry following the EU’s move.

Nattaya Petcharat, a representative of the Stella Maris Seafarers Centre Songkhla, said the centre still receives reports about accidents on fishing vessels, including instances of crew members falling overboard, adding that improving safety and working conditions on fishing boats is an urgent matter.

Oxfam campaign coordinator Chakchai Chomthongdee said crew members sometimes get no safety-equipment training before boarding boats, which makes their already hazardous work more dangerous.

He said it is the duty of authorities to ensure fishing crews understand how to operate the machinery safely.

Somboon Traisilanant, deputy director-general of the Social Welfare and Labour Protection Department, said random inspections by his department showed a significant reduction in forced labour in the fishing industry following tighter enforcement of the anti-human trafficking law.

He admitted, however, that safety on fishing trawlers is still a challenge since many workers are not properly trained to handle the tools and some cannot swim.

The department would organise training in safety and first aid for owners and skippers of fishing boats so they can train their crew, he added.

Regarding workers’ rights, representatives from three key players in the seafood processing industry have agreed that welfare committees, which are required under the Labour Protection Act, are a promising mechanism to promote better communication and protection of migrant workers’ rights.

Under the law, businesses with at least 50 employees are required to set up a welfare committee comprising at least five employees to oversee and review the employee benefit and welfare schemes. The committee is also required to meet at least once every three months.

Benjaporn Chawalitanont, a representative from Seafresh Industry Plc, said the committee is the most popular way for employees to lodge their complaints.

She said it took some effort to encourage migrant workers to join her company’s welfare committee, which can inform employees of their rights.

Pakprink Boonlom, a representative from Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF), said her company would place an additional employee representative on the welfare committee for every 400 workers.

She said CPF also has four sub-committees — on gender, religion, ethnicity and nationality, and disabilities — via which workers could voice their complaints to the welfare committee.

Patcharin Harncharoen of the Department of Employment noted that the 2018 Decree Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment is a legal tool to help ensure fair recruitment practice and to safeguard migrant workers’ interests.

Under the decree, employers are required to shoulder the costs of recruiting migrant workers, such as fees for travel documents, she said. Moreover, random interviews with migrant workers applying for work permits are also conducted by provincial authorities to screen for victims of human trafficking, she added.

 Written by Penchan Charoensuthipan
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 9 August 2019
Link https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1727235/safety-net-failing-migrant-fishermen

Migrants mistakenly held in Thai trafficking shelters – rights groups

BANGKOK, Aug 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thai shelters are hosting a record number of potential trafficking victims but many are in fact smuggled migrants, human rights campaigners said, as the southeast Asian nation seeks to boost its anti-trafficking credentials.

Thailand broadened the scope of its anti-trafficking law in April to include forced labour as an offence, following criticism of its failure to stop slavery and trafficking in its multi-billion dollar seafood and sex industries.

Some 1,496 potential trafficking victims are being held in nine government shelters, awaiting trial or repatriation, according to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, which oversees anti-trafficking efforts.

“We are almost reaching full capacity … as there have been large amount of (forced) labour (victims), especially after amending the law,” the ministry’s permanent secretary Porametee Vimolsiri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“In some cases, they may initially be identified (by police) as trafficking victims, but turn out not being victims after they are interviewed.”

The U.S. State Department this year in its human trafficking report kept Thailand on a watchlist and criticised it for not doing enough to tackle the problem.

A record-breaking 1,159 human trafficking victims have been rescued in Thailand so far this year, the human security ministry said, outstripping the previous high of 982 in 2015.

Most are migrants from neighbouring Myanmar, transiting through Thailand to work in Malaysian factories, it said.

Activists questioned whether all those rescued by police were trafficked – which involves exploiting people for financial gain – rather than smuggled, which merely means entering another country illegally, often willingly.

“Human trafficking is a political issue,” said Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a coordinator at the Migrant Working Group, a network of non-governmental organisations promoting migrant rights.

“When people aren’t interested in this subject, there are less cases of trafficking. But once Thailand needs to show that we have performed well in combatting trafficking, then there will be lots of cases.”

There are about 4.9 million migrants in Thailand, making up more than 10% of the country’s workforce, according to the United Nations. Most are from poorer neighbouring countries including Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

“If they are misidentified (as trafficking victims by the government), instead of helping them, it is violating their human rights,” said Nattaya Petcharat, a project coordinator at Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre, which helps migrants.

“Instead of being able to earn money from work, they lack freedom,” she said, adding that the high number people in shelters will also lead to lower quality services and stress for both victims and officials.

(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Written by Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News
Published on 6 August 2019
Link: http://news.trust.org//item/20190806170311-3jpsb/

[Cambodia] Embassy calls for release of 85 ‘traffickers’ from Thai jail

The Royal Embassy of Cambodia in Bangkok sent a letter to the Thai authorities on Monday requesting the release of 85 Cambodian workers imprisoned near the border in Sa Kaeo province over their alleged involvement in human trafficking.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Ket Sophann told The Post that the Thai prison authorities have promised to address the issue.

The request came after the prisoners’ families urged the relevant authorities to intervene and ask the Thai authorities to free the 85 Cambodian nationals.

A family member said that their relatives had been held in prison for more than three months.

Sophann said the Cambodian embassy in Thailand submitted a formal letter on Monday requesting the Thai authorities to free all the prisoners.

“The Cambodian embassy submitted a letter asking for the immediate release of the prisoners, or as soon as possible, and the Thai prison authorities have promised to address the issue quickly,” Sophann said.

He said after Cambodian embassy officials became aware of the arrests, they immediately contacted the commander of Sa Kaeo Provincial Prison to find out the details of the prisoners’ detention.

Sophann said that the prison commander had told the embassy that the Cambodian workers had been detained for their involvement in human trafficking and allowed embassy officials to provide them consultation.

“Given that they had been detained for more than 85 days, on July 30, the Cambodian embassy again met with the head of the prison. The prison commander said he had been following the case very closely and he had reported it to his superiors.

“He said that following the latest meeting, he would immediately submit a report to the top officials to inform them of the Cambodian embassy’s concerns and that would revert to the embassy,” Sophann said.

Sam Chankea, the Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, told The Post that many people migrate illegally into Thailand despite being aware that they face shootings, torture or imprisonment by the Thai authorities.

“It’s nothing new. It’s happening again to Cambodians. We don’t have a clear mechanism to help workers escape persecution from Thai authorities,” he said.

Chankea said Cambodian authorities needed to have clear mechanisms to create more jobs in the country to thwart migration and that the authorities must also look for the brokers who help the illegal migrant workers to enter Thailand.

Written by Mech Dara
Source: The Phnom Penh Post
Published on 6 August 2019
Link: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/embassy-calls-release-85-traffickers-thai-jail

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