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Big brands, small firms offer pandemic aid to Thailand's migrant workers

by Nanchanok Wongsamuth | @nanchanokw | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 14 January 2021 09:59 GMT

A medical worker performs a nose swab on a migrant worker at a seafood market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Samut Sakhon province, in Thailand, December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Panumas Sa

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Companies, including Charoen Pokphand Foods and Thai Union Group, are helping migrant workers in Thailand impacted by COVID-19

By Nanchanok Wongsamuth

BANGKOK, Jan 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global brands and small firms are providing aid to migrant workers in Thailand after a jump in coronavirus cases, a move backed by activist groups on Thursday who urged businesses to help pay for testing and access healthcare.

In Samut Sakhon, a province south of Bangkok where an outbreak began at a shrimp market late last year, seafood companies are providing assistance to migrant workers - mostly from Myanmar - who are a major source of labour for the industry in the area.

Companies that have donated food and drinks in Samut Sakhon included Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF), Thailand's largest agriculture business, Thai Union Group, the world's biggest producer of tuna, and drinks giant Osotspa.

Kimberly Rogovin, a coordinator for Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, a workers' rights organisation, welcomed the aid but said more needed to be done to address the current crisis and prevent future disasters.

"While it is positive to see big brands giving aid and food to migrant workers, the private sector must also ensure workers are paid decent wages, have access to healthcare, and do not bear the burden of paying for COVID-19 tests or new registration requirements," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Migrant workers and their families receive frozen ready meals donated by Charoen Pokphand Foods through the Labour Protection Network in Samut Sakhon, Thailand on December 31, 2020. Photo courtesy of Labour Protection Network/Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thailand is dealing with its worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 200 new infections each day, raising the total so far to more than 11,000 cases, including 69 deaths.

The current crisis has left many migrant workers unable to find jobs and struggling to survive in Samut Sakhon, which has an estimated 400,000 migrant workers according to activists, and has been under lockdown since last month.

Migrant worker charities say they have received complaints from workers who had been asked by employers to obtain medical certificates showing negative COVID-19 test results - which can be expensive - in order to return to their jobs.

"We are well aware of the hardships that Thai and migrant people are facing ... and have offered a helping hand to Myanmar people (by providing them with food)," CPF chief executive Prasit Boondoungprasert said in a statement.

Thailand's second-largest mobile operator True Corporation has donated mobile phone SIM cards to provide internet access, while rival operator Total Access Communication has bolstered its network near migrant worker housing in Samut Sakhon.

The Raks Thai Foundation, a legal aid charity that has an office in Samut Sakhon, said it had received donations from three local companies since December.

Global brands such as food and drink giant PepsiCo, chocolate maker Mars and consumer goods company Colgate-Palmolive also provided support last year, it added.

"At the end of the day, migrant workers help support the Thai economy and they should be given equal rights," said Phumjai Krisintu, director of resources development at the foundation.


Asian migrant workers locked up, dumped as coronavirus curbs ease 

Thailand allows thousands of migrants to extend work permits 

Migrants jobless and trapped under Thai coronavirus lockdown 


(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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