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New Report Uncovers Worker Wage Theft in Thai Apparel Industry

Migrant workers in Thailand’s apparel sector are supposed to earn a minimum wage, but a new study into the working conditions of migrants from Myanmar revealed that those workers are making roughly half of what they are owed.

Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an organization dedicate to improving working conditions in the global garment industry, partnered with MAP Foundation, a Thai NGO working with Burmese migrant workers, to launch the study.

The findings revealed that workers are denied the right to collective bargaining and social security, and are also denied the legal minimum wage.

Workers are supposed to earn a minimum of 300 Thai baht ($9.13) a day, but according to CCC, they are typically paid between 150-180 Thai baht, or $4.56- $5.48. Even at the 300 baht rate, workers are making less than a living wage.

Overtime is also a common requirement, the report found. On average, work days last nearly 11 hours, reaching as long as 12-16 hours during peak period or when deadlines must be met. Overtime pay should be 56 baht ($1.70) per hour according to the law, but workers are earning roughly 16 baht per hour ($0.49), if not less.

In 2013, Thailand’s garment exports to the U.S. totaled 964 million euro ($1.18 billion), and E.U.-bound exports brought in 830 million euro ($1.01 billion). The country’s total exports of garments and textile amounted to 5.86 billion euro ($7.2 billion) last year, and the industry is one of Thailand’s largest and most lucrative export sectors. Apparel manufacturers and mills in the country total just over 4,000, with 572,000 workers reported. Migrant workers make up an estimated 10 percent of the Thai workforce.

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Thailand’s major garment production sector is in Mae Sot in the Tak Province bordering Myanmar. A significant portion of the factories there are sub-contracting for factories in central Thailand and workers don’t know which brands they are producing for, the report noted.

“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,” according to the report.

The total number of migrants estimated to be working in the Mae Sot area is between 200,000 and 300,000, though only 30,000 are registered. The workers are predominantly women.

Tessel Pauli, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said, “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.”