Myanmar workers facing exploitation in Thai sweatshops

Courtesy: InsideRetail

Migrant workers from Myanmar are subject to ‘wage theft’ in Thailand say campaigners for ethics in the garment making industry.

But the organisation cannot name and shame the apparel brands benefitting from the exploitation – because the workers have no idea whose brands they are making clothes for.

factoryworkerTo mark the recent United Nations International Migrant Day, the Clean Clothes Campaign and MAP Foundation released an in-depth study into the working conditions of migrants from Myanmar who are working in the Thai apparel industry. The new report documents how workers are denied the right to collective bargaining and minimum social security – and denied the legal minimum wage in Thailand, a practice “tantamount to wage theft” the organisation said.

Although migrant workers are currently entitled to the minimum wage of 300 THB (7.27 EUR) a day, they are typically paid between 150 and 180 THB per day, according to interviews carried out by the MAP Foundation for this report. The sum of 300 THB also falls short of a living wage, and is insufficient to sustain a worker and her family.

“The research we conducted illustrates just how badly migrant workers are treated. They are working long hours for wages that do not even meet their basic needs. Thai labour laws are violated as there is little enforcement from labour agencies and because of migrants’ precarious state,” said Brahm Press, executive director of MAP Foundation.

Workers are also commonly required to work overtime. On average, migrants work almost 11 hours a day, and sometimes between 12-16 hours during peak periods to meet deadlines. Yet, they only receive on average approximately 16 THB (0.40 EUR) per hour or less, when legally they should be receiving 56 THB (1.42 EUR) per hour for overtime. One person, an 18 year-old female, was paid as low as 100 THB (2.4 EUR) per day, and another was paid only 120 THB (2.9 EUR) per day.

The focal point of garment production in Thailand is located in Mae Sot, Tak Province, roughly 500km northwest of Bangkok on the border with Myanmar. By focusing production in border towns, such as Mae Sot, the garment industry aims to reduce production costs by hiring migrant workers, who are seen as desperate and therefore easily exploited, at below the minimum wage.Many of the migrants are undocumented, which increases their vulnerability to exploitation and limits their ability to leave the factory compounds, concludes the report. Those who do have documents often have them withheld by the employer.

Contributing to the environment of exploitation is the fact that a large proportion of factories in Mae Sot are sub-subcontractors for factories in central Thailand.

“In fact, none of the garment factory workers interviewed for this report knew which brands they were producing garments for.”

The total number of migrants estimated to be working in the Mae Sot area is between 200,000 and 300,000. Only 30,000 migrants are currently registered with work permits in this area, the rest being undocumented. Some 60,000 to 80,000 migrants are estimated to be working in knitting and garment factories with possibly 70 per cent women.

“We call upon brands to stop being complicit in this systematic wage theft and ensure that all workers in their supply chain, including migrant women, are paid living wages,” said Tessel Pauli, international coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign.

MAP staff and volunteers interviewed 58 migrant workers (32 women and 26 men) working in garment factories in the Mae Sot region during February 2014.  Read the full report here.

The MAP Foundation is a grassroots NGO that seeks to empower migrant communities from Burma living and working in Thailand. MAP says it works towards a vision of the future where people from Burma have the right to stay securely within their home country as well as the right to migrate safely, and where the human rights and freedoms of all migrants are fully respected and observed.