THAILAND: According to reports, Burmese laborers who made F+F jeans for Tesco in Thailand claim they were effectively forced to work under harsh conditions for 99 hours per week for illegally low pay.
130 former employees of the VK Garment Factory (VKG) are suing Tesco in a historic case in the UK for claimed negligence and unjust enrichment. Between 2017 and 2020, the employees produced F&F clothing for adults and children, including jeans, denim jackets, and other garments, for Tesco’s Thai division.
Tesco said that the clothing was exclusively available on the Thai market. Although pictures of labels on clothing that are believed to have been produced there and written in English were seen. Thailand’s sales generated profits that were sent back to the UK.
A UK corporation is reportedly facing legal action for the first time in English courts for a foreign clothing manufacturer that it does not own in its supply chain.
The factory is located in Mae Sot, a border city with Myanmar that relies on migrant labor from Burma and has earned a reputation as a “wild west” for workers’ rights over the past ten years. According to the lawsuit, Tesco ought to have known the region was infamous for exploitation.
According to Tesco, upholding the rights of everyone in its supply chain was crucial, and had it known about these major problems at the time, it would have quickly severed ties with VKG.
Tesco began employing the factory in 2017, despite its initial examination revealing areas of non-compliance that, in the opinion of experts, should have raised alarms.
Except for arranging, checking, and placing orders, Tesco had little involvement in the factory’s daily operations. Workers in Tesco’s supply chain are attempting to hold the retailer accountable for allegedly neglecting to protect them in a ground-breaking move.
The high court has issued a claim, which is anticipated to be served in 2019. Ek Chai, which was Tesco’s Thai subsidiary until Charoen Pokphand Group acquired it in December 2020, is also being sued.
The suit has also been made against Intertek, the auditors. According to attorneys, this is the first time a social auditor has been involved in this type of dispute.
Regular inspections by Intertek Thailand did not reveal any severe problems with the factory until July 2020, when workers claim they came forward with information regarding their working conditions. Workers said that VKG supervisors had instructed them to lie and that the factory had been informed of audits.
The workers complained to Thailand’s labor protection and welfare department in October of that year. They asserted that they were due back pay for two years’ worth of salaries and for working on legal holidays, overtime, holiday pay, and weekly rest day pay. However, the government mandated the provision of notice and severance pay.
The Thai labor court then heard the case and made the same decision. The workers are anticipated to file an appeal soon, even though nothing has been paid. The English case is currently the focus of most people’s hopes.
Thai labor experts and attorneys feel that one of the reasons the Thai case was unsuccessful was because VKG relied on audit reports from Intertek that they believe to be flawed. After all, up to 2020, they claimed that VKG had complied with labor rules.