The Kanlayanee Case

A case that started almost by accident has resulted as a rare success. As the Mae Sot border area is an area known as a “black hole” for labor rights, it is no accident finding a factory that exploits its workers in this area. However, the Kanlayanee factory was not on MAP’s radar. The things that happened were, in part, because of MAP’s long-standing presence and interventions in the area.

In August 2019, we had invited a Reuters reporter to Mae Sot to look at the issue of underpayment of wages to migrant workers in factories in the area, especially in the garment industry. After a couple of days looking around, we found workers from the Kanlayanee factory. Actually, they found us. A peer leader MAP had previously trained from another factory, called Sanuk Garment, who had moved to work at the Kanlayanee factory, approached us. The Kanlayanee factory was a small-medium sized factory with fifty (50) workers in total.  Reportedly, the factory was producing aprons for Starbucks and was underpaying its workers. We also met workers who previously passed our paralegal training who were working at another factory called Cortina Eiger (workers called it A One), producing for the sports company Bauer. These were both factories in Mae Sot which were under-paying their migrant workers to produce wares for US companies. So, the Reuters reporter released a story.  

Media impact

The story was of interest internationally because US companies were involved. (link) The story also immediately caught the attention of the Office of the International Thai Police, which is the section of the police responsible for anti-trafficking efforts. They saw this as a potential black-eye for Thailand. So, they sent a police force from TATIP (Thai Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force) to the two factories. This also made big news. In early September 2019, TATIP made a snap inspection in the two factories. (news  link) They found migrant workers had their labor rights violated, but were not in conditions considered as trafficking. For this reason, the case was passed onto the Labor Rights Protection Office, Mae Sot branch, Tak Province.

Soon after, on 26 September 2019, the Kanlayanee factory closed without prior notice, supposedly because Starbucks withdrew its order. At that point, it was not yet known about the other brands being produced by the factory.

Workers take action

Out of  50 workers, 26 decided they wanted to take the case for redress and approached MAP. This group had passed through para-legal training activities by MAP on labor rights and collective bargaining while previously working in different factories, so they were familiar with what this entailed. The other group of workers stayed with Kanlayanee and worked at a smaller, home factory under similar conditions. 

In cases like this, where there is an abrupt closure of a factory, as the law allows, it is common to demand claims for two years of retroactive unpaid back wages or improperly paid back wages below the minimum wage, as well as unpaid OT, including working on days off and holidays, in addition to compensation for lack of forewarning of closure / severance pay.  According to these rules, the Labour Protection Office (LPO) officers made a ruling against the Kanlayanee factory, calling for payment of approximately 3.46 million Thai Baht or just around $115,000 US to the workers. The employer (Kanlayanee Ruengrit ) appealed the order, but it was refused and the order was enforced.

(In the Cortina Eiger case the workers were awarded 46 million originally, which was then reduced to 18 million Baht…Reportedly, the owner paid the 600 plus workers and the case was closed – see

Approaching brands

In January 2020, MAP consulted with the international organization Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) about poor auditing practices by brands. We also asked them to approach Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an international network of which MAP is already a member, for advice. CCC recommended that the workers should write a letter to the brand - Starbucks. When they did that, we realized there were other brands involved. However, the workers needed coaching on how to identify the brands. From this process we found that besides Starbucks, there were also the brands Disney, Tesco (F and F), and NBC Universal sourcing from the Kanlayanee factory.

The workers sent a letter to all of the brands in April 2020. Tesco, Disney and Universal responded, recognizing the workers, but did not take any action. Starbucks did not acknowledge the workers. The workers sent another round of letters to the brands in early May and included CCC, MAP and WRC. We coordinated with CCC’s Urgent Appeals section. They helped contact Reuters to follow up the story.

MAP, CCC and WRC worked together along with our community partner CBO “Arakan Workers Organization” (AWO) to maintain contact between the workers and the brands. CCC helped by following up and pressuring the brands; WRC gave advice and technical support, while AWO helped to organize the workers. MAP played a coordinating role. Funding for advocacy, networking, coordination and case support came from CCC and other donors (such as Freedom Fund and Diakonia). Legal assistance was provided by Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) with support from ADRA.

Negotiations begin

Around the same time in April 2020, Ms. Kanlayanee wanted to negotiate with the workers, but started at 500,000 Baht in total. There were a couple of rounds of negotiation, but they were unsatisfactory. At the same time, CCC helped us contact Tesco UK, who was positive about finding a solution, and NBC Universal, who denied responsibility. Starbucks and Disney (through Big C), did not respond at first.

A couple of the workers went back to Burma during a lull in COVID restrictions – one person’s husband was sick, the other went to deliver her child. Almost all of the workers who stayed found it difficult to find regular work. Many are older and find it hard to compete in the workforce, but many have also been blacklisted and can only find daily work which lacks any long-term security. The situation has been exacerbated by COVID restrictions and the related impact on the economy. In fact, most of these workers were impecunious and had to survive off of foraged vegetables, rice and chili paste for long stretches.

On 31 August 2020, HRDF and MAP Foundation officially filed a case against the employer, Kanlayanee Ruengrit, with the local regional Labor Court. COVID restrictions slowed the process.

While waiting for the courts, CCC and MAP were in direct negotiations with the brands. NBC Universal, insisted that the fault was with the bad personal behavior of the licensee, who they felt was corrupt and should pay. As we came closer to the court date, CCC also helped to produce advocacy media that went viral to pressure the brands. The workers helped deliver messages through videos and images showing the difficulty of their lives as part of the media strategy.

On 4 November 2020, the court initiated mediation. Ms. Kanlayanee insisted she was bankrupt and the most she could pay was a little over 1 million Baht. The workers insisted on receiving the full amount. Our team encouraged the workers to assess the situation about the likelihood of getting paid fully and consider a strategy accordingly, which included the possibility of some or all of the brands contributing.

After much discussion, workers agreed to accept the amount offered from the employer, partly because they saw the reality of not getting the full amount ordered by the Labour Protection Office from her, and the courts were pressuring the workers to accept less. So, finally in November, the court ordered Kanlayanee to pay 30% of the total, or around 1.1 million Thai Baht, and the workers accepted. The amount was paid then and there. This buoyed the workers.

The workers gain momentum

Then, with assistance from CCC and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (, we asked the brands to pay a portion of the remainder divided between the four of them, or not even 600,000 Baht or around $20,000 USD each company. Tesco was the first company to take responsibility, and paid outright at the end of November plus some extra for MAP to use in labour protection activities. In mid- December, while we were making a video to pressure the other three brands, Disney and Starbucks also paid. So, we changed the video to thank them and continued to pressure NBC Universal. Meanwhile, Reuters was covering the situation and giving updates on who was paying and who was not.

Video link

That left NBC Universal. So, we targeted our media to NBC Universal and the “minions” characters from “Despicable Me” – which is the products that the workers made. There were videos and photos of workers dressed as minions doing the same things to survive as the workers, such as foraging for vegetables. At the International Migrants Day event the workers dressed as minions and danced as part of the “Pay Up” campaign calling out “to be paid.” CCC had their own “minions” campaign including spoof cartoons, a letter on, and videos by the representative of the actors’ guild…

Victory for the workers

In late February, NBC suddenly approached MAP and CCC saying they would pay. They sent the remainder plus a little extra, which we are putting in a fund to help workers expedite labor cases just like this one. The migrants were just paid the final amount at the beginning of April 2021. Now the workers have been made “whole.”  link

The workers have expressed their happiness at being paid fully. Their excitement grew each time a brand agreed to pay. At first they were disappointed with the slow response of the brands, but are glad they persevered. They were truly ecstatic when they received the final payment from NBC Universal.

The workers paid off debts and remitted money to their families. They also jointly decided to use the funds to help improve a Workers’ Center (by Arakan Workers’ Organization) to help receive similar complaints from other workers, and put together funds to purchase dried foods to assist other workers who are out of work due to COVID. (see final video on MAP website)