Thammakaset believe the 14 labourers from Myanmar defamed it when, in 2016, the workers filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, alleging serious labour violations amounting to modern-day slavery.
The 14 migrant workers claimed they were forced to work up to 20 hours per day; went 40 days without a day off; were paid below the minimum wage and received no overtime pay; had their passports confiscated; and had their freedom of movement restricted.
Thammakaset was ordered pay the workers THB (Thai baht) 1.7million (US$53,000) by local labour authorities. But Finnwatch, a non-governmental organisation supporting the 14, said none of them had received the compensation, despite multiple appeals through Thailand’s legal system that will culminate in a Supreme Court ruling this year.
Thai authorities’ claims that they will make sure that companies in Thailand uphold human rights and protections sound increasingly hollow.
Now, a criminal defamation case is underway in Bangkok against the migrant workers employed by Thammakaset. If the 14 are found guilty, they could face up to one-and-a-half years in jail and be made to pay THB30,000 (US$949).
“In this case, migrant workers are put on trial because the abuse they suffered was made public. It is simply wrong and points to serious problems in Thailand’s defamation laws,” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch.
Thammakaset has also accused two of the workers of stealing company time-cards, used to check in and out of work.
The farm is also pursuing a separate criminal defamation case against the British human rights’ activist Andy Hall for posting allegations of labour abuse at the farm on social media.
Hall faces up to seven years in prison if proven guilty of defamation. He may also face fines up to THB300,000 (US$9,500).
“With more and more of these cases coming to courts, the Thai authorities’ claims that they will make sure that companies in Thailand uphold human rights and protections sound increasingly hollow,” said Vartiala.
“If they are serious about this, they must de-criminalise defamation and protect whistle-blowers without further delay.”
Separately, Anti-Slavery International warned that those importing poultry from Thailand risk polluting their supply chain by relaying on companies allegedly linked to slavery, trafficking, and the mistreatment of migrant labourers.