A recent initiative to adopt the UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights (BHRT) is an attempt to correct the imbalance between rights and obligations of corporations in the field of human rights. While companies regularly invoke human rights to defend their interests, they lack corresponding obligations to respect and uphold such rights throughout their business operations. The examples of reported labour rights abuses in the Thai food industry supplying international and European markets test the capacity of the recent Draft BHRT to end impunity for human rights violations in global value chains.
Pineapple, Chicken, and Modern Slavery: Brought to You by Your Supermarket
In 2013, a Finnish NGO Finnwatch revealed serious human violations in the operations of Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a pineapple processing company in Thailand. Natural Fruit supplied pineapple concentrate to Refresco — the Netherlands-based company with notable customers in Europe including some of the biggest supermarkets. The Finnwatch report alleged that the factory employed many undocumented workers, including children younger than the legal minimum age in Thailand, that the workers were paid less than the minimum wage prescribed by Thai laws, were forced to work overtime, had their passports and work permits confiscated, and were subject to discrimination, violence, and dangerous working conditions.
In 2016, 14 migrant workers from Myanmar filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) against Thammakaset Co. Ltd., a Thai-registered chicken farm, which directly supplied one of the country’s top exporters of chicken. The workers complained of the various forms of ‘labor abuse’ including forced labour and the restriction of their freedom of movement by confiscating their passports and allowing them to leave the premises for only two hours per week and under supervision. (NHRC Examination Report no. 114/B.E. 2559, 31 August 2016, on file with the author). Read the rest of this entry…