EconomyNorthern Thailand

Tesco slavery case – police interview 100s of Mae Sot workers

Police and labour officials in Mae Sot are interviewing more than 100 workers from the former supermarket supplier in the Tesco slavery case.

Authorities are gathering information as they follow up on last week’s raid led by deputy national police chief Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn at the VK Garment (VKG) factory in the border town of Tak province. The raid followed an investigation by The Guardian, which claimed that Burmese workers were victims of trafficking and slavery.

The Guardian revealed earlier this week that Burmese workers who produced F&F jeans for Tesco Lotus, as it was at the time, were forced to work 99-hour weeks for illegally low pay in appalling conditions. The workers made jeans and other clothes for branches of Tesco Lotus between 2017 and 2020. The retail chain was sold to the Charoen Pokphand Group in 2020 and rebranded as “Lotus.”

Officials from the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare conducted interviews with former VK Garment workers on Wednesday, alongside police at an immigration building in Mae Sot.

Tesco faces a landmark lawsuit in the UK, following claims by Burmese workers who are suing Tesco for negligence and unjust enrichment.

The case includes the rape of a seven-year-old girl in a factory accommodation. The child’s mother was working unpaid overtime and when she returned to her room and found her daughter bleeding and in distress, having been raped by a coworker. She said a manager told her not to call an ambulance because the hospital might alert the police.

Oliver Holland, a solicitor leading the Tesco slavery case, said…

“While it is positive that some action is now being taken, we do not believe that an investigation conducted more than two years since our clients worked at the factory can be a thorough investigation.”

The same workers have also been seeking justice in the Thai courts. They were dismissed from the factory in 2020 after they confronted managers about pay and conditions and demanded to be paid a minimum wage. The labour court ruled in September that they were only entitled to severance pay and notice but an appeal has been lodged.

Sirikul Tatiyawongpaibul, the managing director of VKG, claims nothing illegal had been found at the factory. She said…

“We have provided safe working conditions to all employees. We are regularly audited by independent auditors who are not affiliated with the company to maintain good working conditions for our employees and as required by law.”

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career, Jon is now semi-retired, living in a quiet village in Krabi province, Thailand. He continues to write and is an avid traveler and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.