Workers in a Thai pineapple canning factory have had their working conditions improved after the Commission for Mission (CFM) funded an investigation into their experiences.
The investigation found that more than one hundred of the workers had been trafficked into Thailand from Burma in February 2013. The workers were hit with a large fee once they reached the factory, which they were not told about before they left Burma. They have been required to work to pay off this fee – a situation known as debt bondage.
The investigation was based on interviews of workers at the factory, which employs approximately 1,100 people. Around three quarters are Burmese migrant workers. The factory produces tinned pineapple, pineapple concentrate and chilli paste.
The CFM took an interest in the factory as it states on its website that it exports product to Australia and there were reports that human trafficking may have been a problem at the factory.
In response to being provided with the report, the factory has acted swiftly to address many of the problems identified in the investigation. The labour brokers who trafficked the workers confiscated their passports, but the factory has now intervened and ensured the passports have been returned to the workers.
“This is a good news story and shows that not all improvements need to happen through publicly shaming companies”, Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the synod Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, said.
The investigation found workers stated they were subject to harsh working conditions in the factory prior to action being taken. A number of workers said they did not have social security protection or cards as required under Thai law. This was despite most of these workers having deductions made from their salaries to cover these costs.
The workers reported having their work permits and work permit receipts unlawfully confiscated by the factory or an employment agent. Failing to provide this original document to the workers is unlawful in Thailand.
Workers also provided evidence of serious injuries to fingers and hands from having to clear pineapple slicing machines when they became blocked. They reported forced overtime at the factory, which the factory denied. Thai law restricts overtime to 36 hours a week.
On the positive side, those workers who had not been subjected to debt bondage by labour brokers stated that their work at the factory enabled them to receive a good salary from which they could save money and survive adequately in Thailand.
“We need Australian buyers to take seriously the conditions at the factories they buy from,” Dr Zirnsak said.
“The Australian government also needs to introduce laws to stop goods being imported into Australia which have been produced with criminal activity overseas – this includes human trafficking and debt bondage.
“We encourage Uniting Church members not to boycott tinned pineapple from Thailand, as the workers at such factories do need the jobs.
“To expose human rights abuses factory by factory would require a huge amount of effort. Instead we can ensure more workers’ rights are protected if we pressure the Australian government and Australian companies to ensure those people producing our goods have decent conditions and wages.”