Vulnerable workers can face negative consequences by collectively asserting their rights, including harassment by workplace management and dismissal. In some extreme cases, businesses have used civil and criminal defamation laws to sue workers who have reported labour rights abuses to the authorities. Known as ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ (SLAPP), businesses in both developed and developing countries have brought these lawsuits to intimidate human rights defenders. Most SLAPP cases are meritless but aim to silence critics by burdening local communities, NGOs and journalists with the costs of litigation.
One of the most notable examples of the use of SLAPP to prevent workers from asserting their labour rights is that of the Thai poultry company Thammakaset. After 14 migrant workers filed a complaint alleging serious labour abuses at a company-owned poultry farm, Thammakaset filed criminal charges against the workers. Charges included defamation, giving false information to public officials and theft. Although these cases were eventually dismissed, the company has continued to pursue litigation against the workers on appeal and through civil lawsuits. Furthermore, Thammakaset has filed other SLAPP cases against human rights defenders who have supported the migrant workers and publicly commented on the case using social media. This case has had significant implications in Thailand. Our NGO partners, some of which have been providing support to the Thammakaset workers, note the chilling effect on civil society. And given the risks associated with pursuing legal action against powerful businesses, survivors of trafficking and forced labour in Thailand may now be more reluctant to come forward with allegations.
Find out more about how frontline organisations are harnessing the power of the law to fight modern slavery in the Freedom Fund’s new report, “Pathways to Justice“.
Photo credit: Lisa Kristine/Freedom Fund