UN calls out Thai fruit companies over forced labor claims
A United Nations (UN) working group has called on Thai leaders to take note of international laws relating to human trafficking and modern slavery, following allegations of worker abuse in the operations of fruit processors Vita Food Factory and Natural Fruit Company.
The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said violations allegedly continued at Natural Fruit despite recommendations made after a Thai Ministry of Labour inspection on Jan. 28, 2013.
"Concerning the Natural Fruit Factory, while the company returned passports to migrant workers, some of them still have not received their work permits which were confiscated by the company. Natural Fruit also allegedly withholds the
documents necessary for workers to change employers," the group said in a letter addressed to the Thai Excellency's Government.
"Working conditions have been reported to be deplorable: prohibition of sick leave, multiple salary deductions including for unauthorized sick leave, transportation fees even when the service is not used, and compulsory purchases at company owned stores."
The letter also said information received alleged migrant workers at Vita Food Factory were having to pay more for work permits.
"It was further alleged that workers have to pay monthly broker fees of 300 to 600 baht (US$9.24-18.48), which are used to bribe local police to stay away from the factory area," the letter said.
"Furthermore, work permits and work receipts have been confiscated by the company as well as passports due to unpaid broker and documentation fees.
"These practices are said to have resulted in the workers being in debt bondage to Vita Food Factory. The company allegedly charges 3,000 baht (US$92.45), equivalent to more than ten days salary, to issue the permit allowing migrant workers to change employers."
The letter also said reports alleged cases of trafficking of individuals from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
"Some workers from Myanmar have been deceivingly taken to Thailand, not knowing that they would be traveling outside their country; were kept in locked rooms and forced to work at Vita Food Factory to repay labour brokers the imposed debt of 19,000 Baht (US$585) for their travel," the letter said.
"The alleged victims were deprived of their salaries or received very little income for long hours of work and faced violent physical reprisals for attempting to run away or alert the authorities.
"Moreover, some migrant workers from Myanmar allegedly signed a contract promising a higher salary, free accommodation and uniforms by the factory. However, upon arrival they were required to pay for precarious housing and for their working supplies and uniforms."
Natural Fruit is involved in an ongoing, costly and controversial defamation case against British lawyer Andy Hall, who raised issues relating to its labor practices in the Finnwatch report 'Cheap has a Price'. For further background on that issue, be sure to visit our Andy Hall tag page.