Rights Groups, Unions and Companies Urge EU to Make Labor Rights a Precondition of Resuming Thai Trade Negotiations

(Bangkok, October 28, 2020) – A group of 45 organizations composed of NGOs, trade unions, companies, and multi-stakeholder initiatives sent a letter today to Valdis Dombrovkis, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, urging the European Union to require labor reform in Thailand as a precondition to the resumption of trade negotiations with the Government of Thailand.

EU-Thai trade negotiations began in 2013 but were suspended because of Thailand’s May 2014 military coup. Since elections in March 2019, and the ascension of former coup leader Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha as Prime Minister, the EU has indicated that it sees the end of Thailand’s formal military government as an opportunity for re-engagement on trade with Bangkok. In 2019, the EU and the Thai government began preparations for a possible resumption of the EU-Thai free trade negotiations. The EU has pledged to place respect for human rights at the core of its trade policy. Recent events in September and October 2020 to crack down on peaceful protesters in Bangkok raise further concerns the EU must take into serious consideration.

The signatories emphasized in their letter that Thailand’s weak labor laws fall far short of international standards and the government has a poor track record in both preventing and countering labor rights abuses such as forced labor, discrimination against migrant workers, and violations of freedom of association. Such failures pose serious risks for buyers of goods and products from Thailand who are determined to ensure compliance with requirements to respect human rights throughout their global supply chains.

“Blatantly discriminatory provisions of law that bar migrant workers from forming unions and bargaining collectively because of their lack of Thai nationality are feudal, rights-abusing provisions that have no place in a modern economy like Thailand,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. “Before it does deals, the EU needs to be a force to help Thailand reform its labor sector to comply with international labor rights standards.”

The letter calls for the European Union to establish a clearly defined, measurable and time-bound roadmap for Thailand to follow before trade negotiations can be restarted. In particular, it calls for this roadmap to include ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, covering freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, followed by the passage of amendments to national labor laws to bring them into compliance with these core ILO conventions.

“For more than 20 years, the ILO and organizations concerned with business and human rights have repeatedly made recommendations to the Thai government regarding the ongoing denial of workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and freedom of expression. The Thai government has made many promises to ratify ILO conventions and to undertake necessary labor law reform, yet has failed to do so. No further trade benefits should be afforded without reforms being made,” said Esmeralda Lopez, Legal and Policy Director of Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF).

“For the global implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, it is particularly important that the strengthening of workers’ rights and appropriate standards for employment practices become an integral part of trade agreements. Human rights and sustainability should already be firmly anchored in these agreements,” said Erik Hollman, Director CR/QA International of ALDI Nord, a signatory of the letter.

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This initiative was led by the Seafood Working Group (SWG) in collaboration with Finnwatch. The SWG is a global coalition of labor, human rights and environmental organizations coordinating to end forced labor in the seafood industry, convened by Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF).

For press inquiries, contact Nazly Sobhi Damasio, Communications Director, GLJ-ILRF at / +1 202-347-4100

For inquiries regarding the Seafood Working Group and this initiative, contact Kimberly Rogovin, Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator, GLJ-ILRF at / +66 6 4335 3128