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Thai Lingerie Workers Still Fighting for $7 Million in Wages

Labor campaigners are urging the Thai government to pay hundreds of garment workers the millions of dollars owed to them following their factory’s unexpected closure, as well as punish the company’s owners for leaving them in the lurch.

The 1,388 employees of Brilliant Thai Alliance, which made intimate apparel for Ann Taylor owner Ascena Group, Lane Bryant, Torrid and Victoria’s Secret, were dismissed last March without their wages, bonuses or severance.

Though the labor protection and welfare office of Samut Prakan ruled that the factory had violated Thai labor law, ordering Brilliant to pay 242 million baht ($7.3 million), Clover Group International, its Hong Kong-based parent, offered to settle the debt in installment payments over 10 years. After the proposal was rejected, Clover Group moved to liquidate the facility, which it told Sourcing Journal in July that it was initiating “in full compliance with the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand.”

But workers are unable to wait for the completion of the lengthy process, said IndustriALL Global Union. In a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin earlier this month, the worker-rights group called on the government to dip into the country’s employment welfare fund to front the sum, plus an annual interest of 15 percent.

“Since the sudden closure of the lingerie factory in March 2021, the workers are facing economic hardship because they cannot secure decent jobs during the pandemic,” the letter said, noting that most of the former employees are women who have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

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“Given the urgency, we call on you to make the full payment in advance, and get the reimbursement from the company after the liquidation process is completed,” it said. “Your government must also take responsibility for bringing in the errant employer and immediately prosecute the company in accordance with the Thai law. Strict enforcement of the laws can deter irresponsible employers from violating workers’ rights again.”

The letter arrived after six former Brilliant employees were arrested in November for holding a so-called “illegal” protest outside the Government House in Dusit district after repeated pleas to the government for assistance went unanswered. The Textile Industrial Labour Union said the police charges violated the demonstrators’ rights, especially since they were suffering from the income loss and had no safety net to fall back on.

A spokesperson for Clover Group told Sourcing Journal that the company is “extremely thankful for all assistance towards the employees and respect all decisions of the Thai government.” Both Clover Group and Victoria’s Secret said that the lingerie giant did not place any orders with Brilliant in 2021 and in previous years had represented only a fraction of its production. Ascena, Lane Bryant and Torrid did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a case which is attracting increasing public and political interest both in Thailand and internationally and that will continue until it is resolved and the workers are paid the money legally owed to them,” David Welsh, country director for Thailand at the Solidarity Center, a worker-rights nonprofit. “On the one hand, it’s tragically another example of prominent multinational brands and garment factories who reap enormous profits off the labor of poor workers in good times, but leave them destitute and avoid meeting their legal obligations during challenging ones.”

The brands who contracted Brilliant, Welsh said, have an obligation, as stated in their codes of conduct, to ensure that the workers are paid the millions owed to them. The advocacy, he said, will not stop until this happens.

“Brands and factory owners throughout the industry have repeatedly used the pandemic as an excuse to avoid paying legally owed salaries and severance to their employees,” Welsh said. “Consumers in the West will be astonished that a year after the factory’s closure none have made any effort to compensate a single worker despite legal orders to do so.”