Fri, Sep 06, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Thai garment factory accused of illegally low wages

Thomson Reuters Foundation, MAE SOT, Thailand

Thread is spooled on a machine at a factory in Thailand on May 8.

Photo: Bloomberg

Garment factories in Thailand that supply to global brands such as coffee giant Starbucks Corp and sports gear maker Bauer Hockey Inc are under investigation after an expose found that workers were allegedly underpaid in a region described as a “black hole.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation interviewed 26 workers — all migrants from Myanmar — employed at four factories in Thailand’s western region of Mae Sot who said they were paid less than the daily minimum wage of 310 Thai baht (US$10.14).

Five hundred kilometers from the capital, Bangkok, Mae Sot is the main entry point into western Thailand and a trade hub home to hundreds of factories and tens of thousands of migrant workers seeking to make money to send back to their families.

Most of the 26 workers told reporters that they did not receive wage slips at work.

However, the MAP Foundation — a non-profit that supports Burmese migrant workers — said it had gathered dozens of their payslips showing illegal underpayment.

Some of the workers said they produced aprons for Starbucks and provided photographs of the garments that can be seen worn by baristas at its cafes in Thailand, while others worked at a factory that makes clothing for the US-based Bauer Hockey.

A senior Thai government official said he was aware that many of those working in Mae Sot were being unlawfully underpaid.

Starbucks said that it was investigating the findings, while Bauer Hockey said it had asked its supplier to look into the matter.

Both companies said they required that their suppliers comply with local laws on issues including compensation for workers.

“The supplier in question has denied these allegations,” a Starbucks spokeswoman said. “We take these claims seriously and are conducting a full investigation.”

The Starbucks’ supplier could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Bauer Hockey said it had asked the factory in question to investigate and “take all necessary action to immediately bring its compensation practices within compliance.”

A representative for the factory in Mae Sot supplying Bauer Hockey said it provided many benefits for workers, such as free housing, and covered half of the cost of their work permit fees.

The government has been planning to send a taskforce to inspect factories in Mae Sot, said Somboon Trisilanun, deputy director-general of the Thai Department of Labor Protection and Welfare, which implements labor laws and performs inspections.

“We have to admit Mae Sot is a black hole, because there are many garment factories that are very hard to inspect,” Trisilanun said.

Mae Sot, a district in Thailand’s Tak Province, which borders Myanmar and is also part of a special economic zone (SEZ), has 430 registered factories — 40 percent of which produce garments and textile — employing about 44,500 workers, Thai government data showed.

The Tak Province Office of Labor Protection and Welfare said it aimed to inspect 260 factories this year and so far about 50 owners have been ordered to comply with labor laws or risk fines as high as 20,000 baht and/or up to a year in prison.

Since 2016 — according to its latest available data — the office has filed 26 lawsuits against companies over issues from not paying the minimum wage to compensating fired workers.

Most of these companies paid fines, the office said.

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