Migrants in Thailand's Agriculture Sector

As part of our mandate, MMN regularly facilitates discussion amongst our member organisations and partners to identify issues of concern currently facing migrant workers and their families. In particular, we seek to focus on issues that, for whatever reason, may have been overlooked, under-researched or are otherwise in need of greater outreach and advocacy. The exploitation of migrants employed in Thailand’s large agricultural sector is such an issue. While MMN’s previous work has touched upon some of the problems faced by migrants in this sector, including low pay, lack of legal protection, and lax occupational health and safety, MMN members agreed that a more targeted investigation was necessary to better understand the needs of migrants in agriculture and identify appropriate responses. 

Given the difficulties in gaining access to migrant agricultural workers in geographically remote locations, a relative dearth of research has been produced in this area. As such, MMN launched a project between 2017 and 2019 that aimed to generate much needed knowledge regarding this hard-to-reach population. In so doing, it also sought to give voice to migrant agricultural workers whose views and experiences have largely been absent from the policy discourse. Lastly, the project sought to contribute a set of workable recommendations that could fill existing policy gaps and contribute to better legal and social protection for migrant agricultural workers in Thailand.

Project Partners

  • MAP Foundation, Thailand; 
  • Raks Thai Foundation, Thailand;
  • Foundation for Education and Development, Thailand; 
  • Future Light Centre, Myanmar; 
  • Confederation of Trade Union, Myanmar; and
  • Cambodian Women Crisis Centre, Cambodia

Key Activities

In collaboration with local civil society organisations (CSOs) with extensive on-the-ground experience, MMN planned a two-year research project focusing on the living and working conditions of migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar employed in Thailand’s agricultural sector. Project partners convened periodically on three occasions (September 2017, July 2018, and May 2019) to collectively identify research gaps, develop research strategies, analyse collected data, and develop recommendations targeted at relevant stakeholders. For the purpose of this study, MMN project partners conducted surveys in 10 locations across Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. A total of 328 survey questionnaires were collected between September 2017 and January 2019. Between January and July 2019, key informant interviews were conducted with migrant family members, government officials, representatives of CSOs, private recruitment agencies, and employers or landowners in Thailand. Further, a total of 12 focus group discussions and 33 in-depth interviews were carried out with migrant agricultural workers and returnees between July and August 2019. Extensive desk research and legal analysis of the legal protections applicable for migrant workers were also conducted as part of the research. 

The findings of the research were presented in the report entitled Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand, which focuses specifically on the experiences of workers from Cambodia and Myanmar on corn, cassava, palm oil, and rubber plantations in Thailand. The report highlights their experiences and analyses gaps in existing protection mechanisms.

On 19 December 2019, MMN held a multi-stakeholder workshop on Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand at the IBIS Riverside hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Over 40 participants, including migrant worker representatives, Thai government officials from the Ministry of Labour, Cambodian government officials, CSOs from Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, the International Labour Organization, and other experts attended the workshop. MMN shared with stakeholders a preliminary draft of its report, Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand, and organised panels to discuss three key issues related to agricultural migrant workers, namely: labour protection, access to social services and social protection, and occupational health and safety. To learn more about the event, please read the press release in English and in Thaiwebsite report, and proceedings of the workshop.

MMN launched Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand on 30 January 2020 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. Over 40 participants, representing migrant workers, the Thai Ministry of Labour, CSOs, intergovernmental organisations, academia, and the press, gathered to hear MMN’s research findings and discuss migration and labour issues in the agricultural sector. To learn more about the launch, please read our press release in English and in Thai. A video of the full launch is also available here.

Media Coverage