Finnwatch alleges migrant pay abuse from Thai mango supplier

December 17 , 2015

The rights of migrant workers have allegedly been 'trampled on', according to a new Finnwatch report into canned mango production at a Thai factory and its supply to a Nordic discount retailer. Tokmanni - Estormiz

The NGO's report 'On the borderline of responsibility' investigates the treatment of former and present workers at Great Oriental Food Products, a Thai factory producing canned mango and other products for Finnish discount retailer Tokmanni.

According to Finnwatch researcher Anu Kultalahti, migrant workers from Myanmar are undocumented and paid 'illegally low wages' at the facility.

Kultalahti also alleges Tokmanni 'has failed to carry out effective monitoring of its suppliers' responsibility policies and practices' and has become involved in 'human rights violations.'

However, in a statement given to www.freshfruitportal.com the retailer highlights it only made a one-off purchase of Great Oriental's Ata mangoes, through a European importer.

"This was a one-off purchase and Tokmanni does not intend to continue purchases from this factory. Our goal is to purchase all our products from responsible suppliers," a Tokmanni spokesperson says.

"In 2013 we started a substantial change in our sourcing organization and in that process we have also put specific focus on corporate responsibility (CR) issues.

"The change takes time however, and we still have a lot to do. Corporate Responsibility and its continuous development is a strategic focus area for Tokmanni and we want to act responsibly in all our actions."

In the case of Great Oriental Food Products, the Finnwatch report says the factory is located close to the Myanmar border in Mae Sot, Tak province, and often employs migrants from the neighboring country.

"Tokmanni has made one purchase of Great Oriental own brand Ata mango in January 2015. As of November 2015, canned Ata mango slices remained for sale at Tokmanni stores in Finland," it says.

"Tokmanni made the purchase via Sea Value Europe, a sourcing company based in the Netherlands. Sea Value Europe is part of the Sea Value PLC, a Thailand based tuna producer.

"According to Sea Value Europe, they aim to ensure that the working conditions in their purchasing chains meets international labour rights standards."

Sea Value Europe began its purchasing from Great Oriental 'some years ago' after confirming the company met its criteria for product quality, while at the same time recommending Great Oriental Products work toward criteria set out in the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) Code of Conduct; a document that unites more than 1,300 European retailers, importers and brand companies.

Despite the original agreement, Sea Value Europe says Great Oriental made little progress in realizing this goal and therefore it pulled out of further purchases from Great Oriental until it became fully compliant with the BSCI standard.

Migrant Interviews

As part of the research, 10 workers from Great Oriental were interviewed in October 2015, nine of which were current employees. All were migrant workers from Myanmar and carried out duties including chopping, cutting and labeling.

Four had been working at the factory for more than a year, some up to six years and others were more recent recruits.

"Many Great Oriental factory workers are undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar. None of the workers interviewed (for this report) had any government issued ID cards, visas or work permits and seemed to be working in Thailand irregularly."

It goes on to say how migrant workers commuted daily across the border via arrangements made by the company

"The field research team called Great Oriental pretending to be migrant workers looking for work in order to confirm that it was indeed possible to take up employment at Great Oriental without documentation.

"Great Oriental staff on the phone confirmed to the research team that a Myanmar worker without any documents could come to apply for work there."

Interview questions focused on the company's recruitment process, employment relations and working and living conditions. The research team also reviewed pay slips and workers' Great Oriental ID cards.

"All interviewees who were currently employed at Great Oriental had Great Oriental ID cards but none of them had an employment contract with Great Oriental. Most of them were unclear about what an employment contract was."

Low or piecemeal wages

The report adds how workers were either paid a fixed daily salary or at a piecemeal rate.

"Some workers interviewed for this report testified to illegally low wages independent of the method of calculation.

"Workers who were paid at a piecemeal rate reported daily earnings between THB180 and THB200 (US$5.00 - US$5.55).

“Some who received a fixed daily salary reported as low a pay as THB120 (US$3.33) per day. The daily salary rate appeared to be linked to the persona’s length of service at the factory… the lowest reported overtime pay rate was just THB12 (US$0.33) per hour."

Finnwatch is a non-profit organization that investigates the global impacts of Finnish business enterprises. Another part of the report focused on migrant workers at a baby care product manufacturer, also involved in supplying products to Tokmanni.

At the time of writing Tokmanni had not come back to www.freshfruitportal.com.

According to Finnwatch, in order to mitigate human rights risks companies should seek to avoid purchases from suppliers if due diligence on potential breaches has not been carried out and adds that Tokmanni made purchases 'without adequate controls in place.'

"We encourage Tokmanni to sign up to the newly adopted shared vision for respecting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Grocery Trade Supply Chains between Finnish grocery trade, NGOs and authorities," adds Kultalahti.

Photo: Estormiz, via Wikimedia Commons

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