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From the Catwalk to the Court

“Thailand´s relation between cheap child labour and the lack of Intellectual Property Protection”

Thailand’s textile Industry has a long history. Due to the low import tariffs and the imposition of the Bowring treaty, which forced Thailand to open the market to colonial powers, national textile industry emerged relatively late compared to other East and Southeast Asian countries.  Unlike other Asian countries this time, Thailand managed to maintain effectively its independence during the colonial period, but was nevertheless still economically colonised. The country ratified the so-called “Treaties of friendship and commerce” with most occidental colonial powers like England, United States, France and Japan. The textile industry was established in 1936 when the Ministry of Defence established Siam Cotton Factory, in which cotton-wool making and weaving machines were introduced for military service purposes and contributed to a steady growing economy. After the first crisis in 1970´s, the government focused on an export-based foreign policy and started to open the market for the export of their nationally produced goods.

As Thailand never had large oil resources like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, nor did it have an edge in Capital and Technology like Singapore, the country had to find a niche in which to specialize. Therefore, the complete concentration remained on its surplus of cheap labour.  As a consequence, the textile and clothing industry was expanded as quickly as possible due to the fact that specifically this industry is known as the most labour-intensive industry.

This approach resulted in various Human Rights violations and inhumane exploitation of workers, as nowadays more than 300.000 under aged children are forced to work under the worst condition. Child labour and Sweatshop still remain a major issue, especially in the cotton and fashion industry. Due to the lack of education and institutions, most of these children are aged between 15 – 17 years and legally or sometimes also illegally employed. The international fashion industry’s dirty secret is hidden in hundreds of cramped, dusty workshops on the outskirts of Thailand, India and many other Asian countries where children work up to 14 hours a day.

To foster innovation, encourage value creation, set human rights standards and further progress to improve the situation, it is of high importance to develop the basic infrastructure of Intellectual Property in order to enhance young people´s success under a set of legal basics.

Several outcomes have already been observed, as the Royal Thai Government put a lot of effort into supporting the legal framework on the protection of IP rights and amended various laws and regulations such as the Copyright Act, the Trademark Act, the Patent Act as well as the Broadcasting Bill. In addition, the declared intention to come on an international level and standard in providing protection on Intellectual Property is characterized by the implementation of the new Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2550 which focuses especially on the latter. In this connection, further progress was seen in the close co-operation with several law enforcement agencies like the International Trade Court in order to take stronger legal actions and appropriate penalties against counterfeiters.

As every nation has its strengths and weaknesses, also Thailand has especially concerning the textile industry’s several failings. One of many problems the country faces is addressing the production cost issue. Thailand’s labour costs are still higher than those of the Philippines and more than double that of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Bangladesh which means that national products are more expensive and therefore buyers tend to purchase their clothes from other “cheap” manufacturers without being aware of the fact under which conditions the products were produced. Although the country is comprised of a well-established educational system, the main focus tends to be on the electronics and automotive sectors. These people enjoy a great preparatory education in universities, whereas in the clothing industry, young women tend to be trained within the company. Consequently, a low level of information and technology is resulting and thus it is very difficult to get well-educated workers into this industry.

Today, trademarks have become an important component of Thailand’s trade within the country, as well within the international markets and therefore owners need to register their Trademark for protection purposes.  Thailand participates as a member of the WTO and was obliged under the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to revise their old Act, and implement new laws to obtain a higher efficiency in protecting Intellectual Property and thus reducing the high number of child labour. The new act, also referred to as Trademarks Act (No. 2) of B. E. 2543 (2000) replaces the Trademark Act  of B. E. 2534 implemented in 1991 and contains new regulations concerning the definition of a mark, publication fees, Trademark Board and the cancellation of trademark registration.

 

Especially, concerning the topic of combating infringement many changes took place in recent years. As the adoption of the new Act was a big positive step for Thailand, the author believes that these changes show the willingness to fulfil its international obligations and to set rules and standards and is convinced that this progress stands in relation and will have a positive influence in the protection of worker´s rights in the textile and garment sector.

Thailand already makes a big effort to bring its IP regime to the same level as other developing countries and the government is trying to bring its total IP legislation into compliance with TRIPS. Furthermore it is expected that Thailand will join the Madrid system in the near future, as it is still not party to the treaties relating to Intellectual Property.

Especially for the textile industry it is very difficult to become internationally competitive and fully abolish the misuse of child workers, due to the lack of appropriate educational institutions for this industry. In most cases, people in the textile industry are trained under bad working condition within the company without any control and set of legal standards from the outside. According to the anti-slavery Save Childhood Campaign, thousands of children receive no pay for the first year until they are “trained”. . As a matter of fact, in order to ensure the welfare of the child, the government has as first step regulate the hours of work, working conditions, (proper light and ventilation as well as clean atmosphere) their salary, regular health check-ups, and even insurance.

 

Source: From the Catwalk to the Court - Final version Alexandra Wohlesser

 

Emberi Jogok Egyetemes Nyilatkozata

Emberi Jogok Egyetemes Nyilatkozata

Elfogadva és kihirdetve az ENSZ Közgyűlésének 217 A (III) határozata alapján, 1948. december 10-én.

A 30 pontból álló Nyilatkozat az élet minden területét felölelő jogokról és szabadságjogokról szól. Elolvashatjátok és megismerhetitek oldalunkon.

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