Thirteen migrant Lao workers rescued last week by Thai police and military officers from a pig farm outside Bangkok where they were kept in slave-like conditions will be witnesses in a human trafficking case against their employer, a police official involved in the case said.
When officers raided the pig and chicken farm on Aug. 22 in the Muang district of Nakhon Pathom province, they found the Lao farmhands confined to areas with metal bars that resembled animal cages.
“In two months, the lawsuit will be drawn up and submitted to the court, which will take about four to five months to consider the case and investigate witnesses for the prosecution,” Thanee Pookpanich, head of the Sam Kwai Pheuk Police Station in Muang district, told RFA’s Lao Service.
Thai police found the group after two workers escaped and notified authorities. One of the escapees, Chanon Saenkaeo, 25, said the Lao workers were beaten, forced to work all day without pay, and had to defecate in plastic bags because the cages they were kept in had no toilets, Thai media reported.
Some also had sustained head injuries from beatings by Thai staff, but were denied medical treatment, he said.
Authorities have transferred the 12 male workers to a witness protection center for victims of human trafficking in Pathum Thani province, while the one female worker was sent to Kredtarakarn Protection and Occupational Development Center in Nonthaburi province, Thai media reported. Nine of them are between 15 and 18 years old.
“Now that the workers are physically well and their welfare is being protected, it’s no problem,” said the director of the Pathumthani Provincial Protection and Occupational Development Center, who only gave his surname, Pongsak. “I am working on the operation process, but cannot give more details about it.”
Investigators have determined that the 13 Laotians illegally obtained jobs at the pig farm through a job broker, reports said.
One Laotian, who refused to give his name, said he landed at the farm three months ago after he paid the job broker 5,000 baht (U.S.$140) to smuggle him into Thailand for work, according to Thai media reports. He said he was promised a salary of 7,000 baht (U.S. $196), but never received any money.
Chaidet Sonut, 55, owner of the pig farm who is also a manager of a Krung Thai Bank branch in Nakhon Pathom province, was arrested last Saturday and faces charges of human trafficking and detaining, assaulting, and giving shelter to illegal immigrant workers.
He denied all charges and was released on 500,000-baht (U.S. $14,013) bail on Sunday, Thai media reported.
Criticism from rights groups
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has publicly vowed strict enforcement of anti-human trafficking laws and cooperation with international organizations to stop the crime.
But human rights groups and western countries continue to criticize Thailand for failing to stamp out slave labor and trafficking people from neighboring countries, including Laos.
The United States placed Thailand in the lowest ranking for the second consecutive year in its annual global trafficking report issued in July, citing the country’s serious failure to combat the crime and longstanding practice of recruiting people from neighboring countries to work on fishing boats where they subsequently are subjected to forced labor on Thai-owned vessels in international waters.
Lao men and boys who seek work outside the country are often trafficked to Thailand through brokers who charge high fees, then face forced labor conditions in the country’s fishing, construction, and agricultural industries, the report said.
A Lao researcher who specializes in migrant workers and youth development told RFA that many of the Laotians who go to Thailand to work do so because they believe the international experience increases their social value back in landlocked Laos. Contrary to popular belief, they are not poor and are well aware that they are at risk for human trafficking, he said.
“Social value is one factor that convinces them to work in Thailand because they absorb it from the media, and when they come back home, they appear to be more valuable compared to other people in their communities,” said the researcher who declined to give his name.
As for the case of the 13 Laotians discovered at the Thai pig farm, he said it was impossible that Chaidet Sonut, the farm’s owner, was uneducated and unfamiliar with Thailand’s law on human trafficking of 2008, because of his position as a bank manager.
“I am afraid this problem [human trafficking] will get worse when the ASEAN Economic Community is fully integrated,” he said, referring to the regional bloc’s aspirations to create a single market with the free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor by 2020.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.