‘Modern day slavery’: Thai food giant drops chicken farm over abuse of Myanmar workers

Thai food giant drops chicken farm over labour abusesA Thai food giant suspended ties with a chicken supplier Wednesday after allegations of exploitation of migrant workers, as the multi-billion-dollar industry moves to head off censure from global consumers.

The kingdom’s money-spinning seafood sector has been battered by allegations of human trafficking and faces threats of a European Union boycott of exports.

Scrutiny has now turned on the kingdom’s massive poultry industry – Thailand is among the world’s top chicken exporters.

Myanmar workers on a farm in central Lopburi province this week accused bosses of unlawfully low pay and punishing working hours.

The Thammakaset Farm 2 supplies chicken to Betagro Group, one of the biggest Thai food companies with clients across the world.

On Wednesday Betagro issued a statement saying it had “stopped business operations with the farm until there is a solution for the labour conflict”.

Limited access to isolated farms has long helped shield the chicken industry from prying eyes, according to labour rights defenders.

“The chicken industry needs this scrutiny…this is modern day slavery,” said Andy Hall, a prominent migrant rights activist whose group took the complaint from the Lopburi farm workers.

He said the problems begin with recruitment agencies charging workers steep sums for job placements, leaving them in effective “debt bondage” and vulnerable to further abuse from employers.

The Lopburi farm case is likely to be the “tip of the iceberg” in the poultry sector, he said, adding it is a sign that Betagro has not properly audited its supply chain.

The majority of Thailand’s migrant labourers hail from neighbouring Myanmar, where decades of poverty under former military leaders drove millions to cross the border in search of higher wages.

But once in Thailand, many find themselves at the mercy of corrupt officials and trafficking gangs who take advantage of the kingdom’s ad-hoc migration policies.

The rights of Myanmar migrant workers topped the agenda during Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand last week, the democracy activist’s first since her party took power in April.

Suu Kyi pledged to strengthen protections for her countrymen and drive economic changes at home that could pave the way for their return.

Text / AFP

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