Oliver Holland, a partner at Leigh Day representing the workers in the UK lawsuit, welcomed the new Thai police investigation.
“However, our clients experienced further serious labour abuses whilst working at the factory including allegations of forced labour. We hope that the further investigations by the Thai police will reveal these further abuses in a timely manner so that our clients can get justice,” he added.
Workers told the Guardian that the factory paid in cash but opened bank accounts for them to create a false trail that made it look as if they were being paid the minimum wage.
Roisai Wongsuban of Freedom Fund said there was frustration that charges had not been brought over allegations of illegally low pay and forced labour. “I expected the police inspector to address the issue of wage theft as workers have strong evidence of financial fraud related to wage payment.”
Wongsuban added: “This continued systematic and deliberate exploitation, together with the restriction in the freedom of movement through withholding workers’ travel documents, constitutes forced labour.”
In August 2020, 136 Burmese workers were dismissed from the factory, which they said happened after they demanded the minimum wage.
The same workers have also been seeking justice in the Thai labour court, but it ruled only that they were entitled to severance pay and notice pay. An appeal was lodged in December reiterating their case for the payment of unpaid overtime, holidays and topping up of illegally low wages.
Tesco did not comment on the latest charges but in an earlier statement a spokesperson said: “Protecting the rights of everyone working in our supply chain is absolutely essential to how we do business. In order to uphold our stringent human rights standards, we have a robust auditing process in place across our supply chain and the communities where we operate.
“We understand the Thai labour court has awarded compensation to those involved, and we would continue to urge the supplier to reimburse employees for any wages they are owed.”
Sirikul Tatiyawongpaibul, the managing director of VKG, did not respond to requests for comment. She previously said the factory had not broken any laws. “We have provided safe working conditions to all employees,” she said. She added the claims should be presented in court and could not be commented on, given the pending appeal in Thailand.