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Thailand cracks down on exploitative factory

In a rare intervention, the Thai Labour Ministry has stepped in to stop the exploitation of migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar at a seafood factory in the country’s south, correspondence obtained by the Post reveals.

The ministry found the Phatthana Seafood factory, in Songkhla province, which employs about 600 Cambodian workers, had breached at least three provisions of Thailand’s labour laws.

In a letter to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in July, the ministry said it found Phatthana had withheld workers’ passports and deducted fees from salaries to pay a third-party recruitment firm, in breach of labour regulations.

“In this regard, the Ministry of Labour has intervened to address unlawful practices on the part of the employer. Measures to rectify the situation have been implemented and some interventions are still on going [sic],” the letter reads.

The intervention followed strikes at the factory and months of pressure from civil society groups for government action after the Post reported in January that workers felt they had been misled about conditions there by the Cambodian recruitment firm CDM Manpower.

Most seriously, allegations were raised that under the guise of providing a safety deposit service for workers’ passports, Phatthana was withholding them, leading some desperate Cambodians to flee the premises without travel documents.

Thai police, who after one inspection of the factory declared there was no problem, have been accused of beating and shaving the heads of some workers before extorting money from them and firing shots in the air to disperse a protest.

Andy Hall, a foreign expert at Mahidol University’s Institute of Population and Social Research in Bangkok, said that since the intervention of the Thai Ministry of Labour, conditions at the factory had significantly improved, although some concerns remained.

“I think the response has to be acknowledged, supported and praised, because I think the response to the Phatthana case was better than we have seen in the past,” Hall said.

Sum Chanpisey, a translator for Phatthana, said all the problems at the factory had now been resolved.

“Everything had been solved since the Ministry of Labour, the Cambodian embassy official and the factory intervened,” he said.

Phatthana, a big global seafood supplier with clients that include the US retail giant Walmart, is a subsidiary of the Thai conglomerate PTN Group.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Chhay Channyda

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