With the Olympic Games fast approaching, the Thai textile world has increased its rhythm of sportswear production. But workers are often illegal aliens, mostly from Burma, living in very difficult conditions and for miserable wages.
As the Olympic Games approach, Asia’s sewing-machines are working overtime. In Thailand, Burmese refugees find jobs making sportswear for big international companies while they live and work in appalling conditions.
In a lawless area along the Burmese border with Thailand, thousands of refugees fleeing the aftermath of cyclone Nargis work in worse-than Dickensian conditions, making the collections that will be sold for a high price in the West in just a few weeks.
These Burmese people have lost everything and have received no assistance. There was only one solution for them and that was to emigrate to next-door Thailand. In order to survive, these illegal immigrants give themselves to any work, no matter how little the pay or how inhumane the situation.
"I came to Mae Sod to look for work, " says one of the workers. “I really need to work … I’ll take whatever I can."
The 200 textile factories along the border, which employ 30,000 people in all, profit from the desperation felt by so many like Sod. These employees describe terrible work schedules in order to fill the orders of the big international brands.
“I have long worked for the big names in foreign sport,” says Aung Thoo, a young Birmanian woman. “We have to work from eight in the morning until late at night, we have no right to stop … It is really exhausting.”
One night, two Burmese workers sneaked a FRANCE 24 camera into their old factory. Around 200 employees, men and women, were still working. The orders were primarily for sportswear.
In the shed with a sheet iron roof and no windows, which serves as their dormitory, the workers pile up on bunk beds, amidst a deafening noise.
Hygiene is non-existent. Workers eat on the floor and try to create some privacy for themselves with the help of plastic tarpaulins.
Despite the late hour, a woman shouts out, “They still need four more people to work! There is a lot of work!”
Chaw Sue is 32. Her face hidden, she speaks about the conditions in which she sews clothes that will be distributed by international brands, and she shows us the labels.
"I work 29 days a month," she says. "Sometimes 30. I work 8 hours a day. And then another six hours after 6 :00 pm. Until midnight. Sometimes we have to work right through the night. We sleep a little bit at the end of the night before beginning work again at daybreak. And for this I earn 3000 baths (55 euros) each month."
She is not allowed to leave the factory, as is the case with all the illegal immigrants.
The least scrupulous employers take advantage of the clandestine nature of their labour. “We certainly have a problem with factory owners who simply do not pay their workers,” says Che Kyi, chief of the undercover syndicate Yaung Shee Oo. “They wait a month, then they call the police who deport them. It’s easy because they’re illegal here.”
The region of Mae Sod offers some of the cheapest labour from all over the world, according to Thai lawyer Thanu Ekchote. Because of a system of sub-contracting, he says, “the most basic labour laws are simply not respected there.”
Date created : 2008-07-17