Members of the Bang Kloi indigenous community employed as weavers in the local craft centre suffer poor working conditions and are paid less than the minimum wage, say activists from the Save Bang Kloi Coalition.
The craft centre at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, which employ members of the community as weavers.
Activist and musician Anchalee Ismanyee said that community members are being paid around 120 – 160 baht per day to weave fabric at the village craft centre, much less than the official minimum wage in Phetchaburi Province, where the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village is located, which is 335 baht per day.
Anchalee said that the Save Bang Kloi Coalition contacted the centre to discuss the wage issue. They were told by an employee of the centre that each weaver is paid not only a daily wage but will also be paid a four-figure sum for each piece of fabric completed. However, Anchalee said that she has been told by the community that it takes between 6 – 8 months to complete a piece, and although they are paid 5000 – 6000 baht for each piece, they have to wait 2 months after completing their work before getting paid. Anchalee noted that community members are constantly in debt, and that their total income from the craft centre is still lower than the minimum wage.
Wages are also often not paid on time. The Coalition have found that the centre once did not pay its weavers for 4 months, before eventually paying them without giving a reason for why wages were not paid monthly and on time.
Working conditions at the centre are also not up to standard. Anchalee said that there was not enough lighting in the building, causing eyesight problems for many workers.
Anchalee said that, according to data collected by the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre and Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute, the craft centre employs around 50 people from the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, most of whom are women who either have no land for farming or the land they have is not suitable for agriculture.
“There is an old couple who have no land at all, and working in the weaving centre is considered dishonourable for men. But this grandfather has to work at the weaving centre because of the land problem, so it’s a very clear reflection of how people who work there already have problems. Some people want to go back to Chai Phaen Din, because they can’t grow anything on their land,” said Anchalee.
The Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community was forcibly evicted from Chai Phaen Din, their ancestral homeland in the Kaeng Krachan forest, in 1996, and for a second time in 2011, when park officials burned down their houses and rice storage barns.
They were relocated to the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, and each family was promised 7 rai of land by the authorities. However, they were not allocated the promised amount of land, and the land they were given is not suitable for agriculture. Some members of the community who were undergoing the process of proving their citizenship also did not have land allocated to them.
Karen community rights activist and a Bang Kloi community leader Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen also disappeared in April 2014, after being taken into custody by Kaeng Krachan National Park officials. Prior to his disappearance, Porlajee was working with other villagers and activists in the Kaeng Krachan area to challenge the human rights violations against his community and to seek redress for the forced evacuation and destruction of their village.
In September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) found charred bone fragments in an oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Reservoir, which were confirmed to be Porlajee’s by DNA testing.
In late January 2021, 87 members of the community decided to return to Chai Phaen Din, after the Covid-19 pandemic caused many community members who left the village to work to lose their income. On 5 March 2021, they were forcibly removed from the forest and taken into detention. 29 people were then charged with encroaching on national park land.
The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, which includes the Kaeng Krachan National Park and three other conservation areas, was named a natural World Heritage site in July 2021, despite ongoing concerns about human rights violations against indigenous communities in the area.
It is unclear who runs the craft centre at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, although it has been previously reported that the Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation operates a development project in the village. Anchalee said that the centre’s manager refused to provide information for the activists.
National Human Rights Commissioner Preeda Kongpaen said that the National Human Rights Commission has been closely monitoring the wage issue at the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi craft centre. She said that the NHRC is looking into the matter, but the community may also file a direct complaint to the commission. They will then contact the relevant agencies for an explanation and investigate any possible right violations that may have occurred.
Meanwhile, Anchalee said that the community is considering filing a complaint with the Phetchaburi Province Damrongtham Justice Provision Centre and asking the provincial authorities to investigate whether the situation can be considered labour abuse.