Over 1,000 Thai garment workers who lost their jobs at a factory supplying lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret received a landmark $8.3 million settlement from the global fashion brand.
Brilliant Alliance Thai’s factory in Samut Prakan Province was shut down in March 2021 after going bankrupt, laying off 1,250 workers.
The workers did not receive their Thai law-mandated severance payouts after they were laid off, despite many of them having worked at the factory for over a decade.
Through the settlement, some workers received the equivalent of over four years’ wages last week, according to workers’ rights group Worker Rights Consortium.
“It’s like the equivalent of a worker’s life savings… and it’s simply stolen. What it means to lose that and get it back is difficult to capture in words,” said Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium.
While the factory also manufactured for American clothing labels Lane Bryant and Torrid, only Victoria’s Secret paid the settlement via a loan arrangement with the owners of the factory.
In a statement to The Guardian, Victoria’s Secret confirmed reports that they had reached an agreement with the workers.
“Over several months we had been in active communication with the factory owners to facilitate a resolution,” the lingerie brand said. “We regret they were not ultimately in a position to conclude this matter on their own so to ensure the workers received their full severance amounts owed, Victoria’s Secret agreed to advance the severance funds to the factory owners.”
Jitnawatcharee Panad, president of the Triumph International Workers’ Union of Thailand, worked for a total of 25 years at the garment facility before it shut down. Panad said over a third of those laid off were female workers aged 45 and above.
“If we hadn’t fought for fair compensation, we wouldn’t have received anything,” she told Agence France-Presse. “The doors of the labor ministry were locked when we went there to seek help and the minister didn’t seem to want to listen to our problem.”
The workers and Thai union representatives had been calling for their pay for the past year, staging protests outside Government House in Bangkok. Some of the protesting workers were charged with criminal offenses for violating pandemic-related public gathering restrictions.
“This case serves as a lesson in the future for the government… to ensure that foreign companies doing business in Thailand allocate some portion of monthly profit for fair compensation when these companies cease domestic operations,” said Prasit Prasopsuk, president of the Confederation of Industrial Labour of Thailand.
International workers’ rights group Solidarity Centre said the settlement involved the largest wage theft ever at an individual garment factory.
David Welsh, director of Solidarity Center Thailand, said the settlement is “extremely unprecedented and represents a new model — the scale of severance and interest paid on it… as well as direct engagement by the brand.”