JUNYA YIMPRASERT, human rights activist & political analyst.
B.A., Social Sciences and Development, Silpakorn University, Thailand, March 1989.
Born: Suphanburi, Thailand,1966.
Fluent in Thai and English.
Through more than 30 years Junya has worked at ground-level for the rights of Thai workers, migrant workers and gender equality. Her dedication has carried her to some 50 countries, making this document more an anthology of an activist’s life than a CV as such.
WORKING LIFE 1990 - 2010
Junya Yimprasert is the seventh of a family of nine children and the first woman from her village to gain entry to a university. As an undergraduate she took every opportunity to gain better knowledge of life in the villages, travelling to almost every province in Thailand. By the time of her graduation she had already served as a research assistant for several academics, in particular for Dr. Philip Hirsch and Dr. Peter Williamson, Sydney University, Australia. Since graduating in March 1989 she has devoted her life to direct assistance to people in their place of work on a face-to-face basis. Junya is known to everybody as ‘Lek’, a name meaning small in size that has been with her since childhood.
Lek’s professional experience with migrant labour issues began in 1990 with 15 months working for the Asian Migrant Centre in Hong Kong assisting Thai migrant workers in trouble.
To better understand the labour movement in Thailand, in 1992 she joined the Centre for Labour Information Service and Training in Bangkok, working with and for industrial women workers, assisting their self-organisation and education in union rights.
At the start of 1993 she began several months of working underground with Singaporean labour activists researching the situation of Thai, male migrant workers in the construction industry.
From 1993 to 1995, as a member of staff of the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), she worked with Gender Training and with forging alliances with NGO partners to develop Gender Training, gaining understanding of NGO actions and intentions in Thailand.
During this time she coordinated the coming together of representatives of 400 Thai women’s groups into a grass-root forum that sent 30 representatives to the UNWomen’s Conference in Beijing in 1995.
In 1995 Lek became a member of the group that established the first FOCUS on the Global South office in Bangkok, taking on responsibility for the logistic arrangements for all their conferences including the first Asia Europe People’s Forum in 1996.
In 1997 she devoted one year of voluntary work to assisting the Assembly of the Poor with communications, reports and regional conferences.
In January 1998 she was invited by Reebok to become their Human Rights Coordinator in Thailand, monitoring 30 – 40 factories that produced shoes and T-shirts. After four months she found she had to resign and, in collaboration with the Asian Monitoring Resource Centre and the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, wrote a paper called ‘Can Corporate Codes of Conduct Promote Labour Standards? Evidence from the Thai Footwear and Apparel Industries’.
In Bangkok, in February 2000, Lek founded the Thai Labour Campaign (TLC) as a rights-based organization to campaign for workers exploited by local and global corporations and as an endeavour to up-grade Thailand’s much neglected labour laws.
She became active with a large number of different organizations. She joined the Steering Committee of the Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign that was spear-headed by the Clean Clothes Campaign, became a member of the Working Group on Gender and Trade Advocacy initiated by Women in Development Europe [WIDE], a member of the Steering Committee of the Asian Labour Network on International Financial Institutions (ALNI) and was active on the advisory committees of many people’s organisations and local labour movements in Thailand and elsewhere.
During this period she also gained extensive experience assisting global labour unions with organising events, facilitating communication between global unions and their Thai affiliates and organising education for IUF and ICEM members in Thailand. She has been a guest speaker and interpreter at many conferences with the ITUC, IMF, ITF, UNI and BWI, and received support from the Global Labour Institute for translating into Thai and publishing labour movement materials.
With TLC Lek assisted the organisation of many direct actions for compensation for workers, for re-instating union leaders and to support and promote new forms of solidarity and collective means of production. She also organised labour caravans and film festivals.
In 2007 she worked to establish a much needed Network against Exploitation and Trafficking of Migrant Workers (NAT). In 2009 large meetings were organised to transform NAT into the Migrant Workers Union Thailand (MWUT). Due to her exile in Europe, MWUT was never inaugurated officially and is now dormant.
It was in the autumn of 2009 that reports began reaching MWUT of many hundreds of seasonal workers from N-E Thailand returning from Sweden heavily in debt. MWUT and TLC responded with an extensive field-expedition to the North-East. The catastrophe was researched, mapped and documented and Lek was invited to present her findings at the Royal Thai Embassy in Stockholm.
The arrival on MWUT’s lap of the fiasco in Sweden coincided with a sharp rise in the political tensions in Thailand that had been kicked-off by the military coup in 2006. Lek was in Sweden when, in April 2010, these tensions boiled-over in a bloody, military crackdown on the occupation of a shopping street in central Bangkok by, mainly, small-farmers from the North-East. 92 civilians were murdered, most by military sniper fire, including several activists known to Lek.
Lek was requested by the The Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK) to investigate the problems just then emerging in Central and North Finland around the increasing number of Thai workers being imported to pick wild berries. This resulted in another extensive field-expedition to interview the labour importers and especially the Thai workers that were being bunked in forest camps across the landscape.
It was in Finland that, in response to the 2010 massacre in Bangkok, Lek decided to write an essay called “Why I don’t love the King”. Publication of the essay, which was translated into several languages, was a momentous decision. It meant in effect that returning to Thailand would lead to imprisonment and worse. Friends in Thailand advised her to not return. Not returning meant severing herself from TLC, her home, family and friends, her whole life to date, but Lek realised that, henceforth, in view of the political chaos in Thailand, working for Thailand from the outside would be more beneficial than some form of martyrdom in a Thai jail. Lek was granted political asylum in Finland in April 2014 and is deeply grateful to all Finnish authorities for treating her case courteously and flawlessly.
WORKING LIFE in exile, 2010 to present day
Adjusting to life in Europe did not stop Lek from navigating a path that would enable her to become effective in new settings.
In response to the deepening political schism, oppression and crises in Thailand, Lek began campaigning, openly, for democratic freedom under the heading Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM Thailand) and built the ‘Time-up Thailand’ website, to provide a platform through which critical analysis could be channelled to people in Thailand and the world-at-large. Simultaneously she began a world-wide campaign for the abolition of Thailand’s draconian laws of lèse-majesté(Article 112 of the Criminal Code) and for the release of political prisoners, launching on-line petitions in June and November 2011 alongside further ground-breaking articles like ‘Overcoming fear of Monarchy’ and ‘60 years of Suppression and Oppression in Thailand’.
The story of the struggle for the rights of Thai workers imported to Scandinavia as bonded-labour is now entering a tenth season. Lek’s engagement with the trafficking of Thai migrant workers to Europe - into forest-berry picking in Scandinavia and agricultural work in Poland, Spain and Israel - has resulted in hundreds of workers receiving compensation and some form of justice. Lek’s input has helped terminate (at least temporarily) trafficking to Poland and Spain, contributed to the introduction of work contracts in Sweden and to some extent curtailed the activity of trafficking agents in Thailand.
The situation regarding the importing of Thai berry-pickers into Finland remains unresolved, with legal actions on-going. Working with Finnish partners, youth organisations, community activists and legal advisers, Lek has conducted many field-trips, actions, exhibitions and seminars - from the Finnish Parliament to the Arktikum Science Museum in Rovaniemi and beyond. She has produced many articles and documentaries that have been fed into the mainstream, for instance, the articles ‘The 2009 Blueberry Fiasco in Sweden’ (2010), ‘The Lomsjö Bär Case, a report on the on-going struggle of Thai berry pickers in Sweden’ (2010), ‘Bonded Labour and Slavery Sub-merged in the Scandinavian Forest-berry Industry’ (2012), and ‘Cruel Realities in the Swedish Forest-Berry Industry’ (2014) and the documentary ‘Missä Marjat’. This work has been quietly seminal in helping to sensitise public opinion and expose various negative, north-south phenomena that linger on in bi-lateral relations with Thailand and within some public authorities.
With regard to Freedom of Speech and the struggle for democracy in Thailand, Lek’s general political advocacy in exile - her ‘Discussing Thailand’, ‘ACT4DEM ‘ and ‘KON 112’ on-line stations - has been significant. Since 2010 she has held more-or-less regular, live, world-wide, inter-active, on-line political discussions and analysis with, depending on what’s happening in Thailand, the number of people listening-in often reaching into the thousands and ultimately to the hundreds of thousands.
In 2011 Lek was invited to become a member of the International Committee of the Association for Women’s rights in Development to plan for the 12th AWID Forum“Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women's Rights and Justice”in Istanbul in April 2012.
During her time in exile Lek has engaged in many actions with Thai dissidents across the world to denounce military dictatorship and hold the monarchy to account, work that has carried her to many countries in Europe, to South Korea in 2016 and across the United States in 2017.
For 30 years Lek has beenpresenting, at countless conferences and forums, the bottom-up view of our global supply-chains, labour trafficking and the labour situation in Thailand, joining in people’s actions for global justice and democracy in some 50 countries.
Fully recognising the input of colleagues, friends and comrades, in solidarity with all fighters committed to social justice, Lek looks forward to the establishment of people’s democracy in Thailand and the eradication of Thailand’s habit of re-cycling military coups and dictatorships.
Lek looks forward to bringing her knowledge and experience together in a manual on Gender and Trade for gender activists: a politically literate manual that, in fully recognising and respecting the role of women in politics, will help to release women from the prisons of Asian patriarchy and enable women to direct their energies to responding to all the questions around how to protect our life-support systems and future generations from the causes and effects of negative, human-induced climate change.
1989 B.A., Social Sciences and Development, Silpakorn University, Thailand.
Research Assistant for a PhD thesis on the ‘Impact of Tourism in Koh Samui’
1990 Working with Asian Migrant Centre, Hong Kong.
1992 Working as part of a large team to establish an independent, election monitoring network in Thailand.
1992 Working with Centre for Labour Information Services and Training (CLIST), Bangkok.
1993 Researching the situation of Thai, male construction workers in Singapore.
1994 Forging NGO partnerships and developing gender training with Canadian Universities Service Overseas (CUSO).
1994 Assisting Thai preparations for the 4th UN World Conference on Women, Beijing ’95.
1995 Assisting establishment of Focus on the Global South.
1997 Voluntary work with the Assembly of the Poor
1998 Human Rights Coordinator for Reebok, Thailand.
Paper on ‘Can Corporate Codes of Conduct Promote Labour Standards?’.
2000 Founding the Thai Labour Campaign, Chief Coordinator until June 2010.
2003 Opening of TLC office in Mae Sot to assist Burmese migrant workers.
2006 Building ‘Open Heart’ (Chiang Mai), a pilot-project for moving towards Organic Economy in practice.
2007 Founding the Network Against Exploitation and Trafficking of Migrant Workers (NAT).
2009 Founding the Migrant Workers Union Thailand (MWUT).
2010 Campaigning for Action for People's Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM Thailand) Launch of ‘TimeUpThailand’ website(http://hirvikatu10.net/timeupthailand/?page_id=11)
Campaigning for the rights of Thai berry-pickers in Scandinavia. Start of on-going open campaigning for the abolition of lèse majesté (Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code) and for the release of all LM 112 and political prisoners.
2011 January – October. Working on the documentary, “Thai Berry Pickers in Lapland” in Thai and English.
2012 January – August. Writing the book ‘Labour Shouldering the Nation’, a compilation of articles and lesson learnt from worker’s struggles for justice in Thailand. Publishing ‘Labour Shouldering the Nation’ (in Bangkok).
September 2012 – March 2014. Writing the book ‘Unveiled and UnThaid’, an exposé aboutthe struggle of Thai women under patriarchy in a class-ridden society.
2013Assisting 50 Thai berry pickers, the first in Finland to stand-up for justice (9 September - 16 October). Assisting this group of workers find justice through the Finnish court system remains ongoing (at time of writing, January 2019).
2014 Publishing ‘Unveiled and UnThaid’ (in Bangkok). Campaigning against the latest, 2014 military coup in Thailand.
2016 Researching and assisting Thai workers in South Korea. Producing ‘Missä Marjat’, a documentary about Thai berry-pickers who stood-up for justice in Finland, in collaboration with Suolahden työttömät ry,
Editing the 50 min documentary ‘Missä Marjat: 50 Thai berry picker speak out for justice”, in three languages Thai, Finnish and English.
2017 Speaking tour in the United States taking in e.g. Colby College, Harvard University, Siena College and the Thai communities in California and Chicago.
Campaigning in public for the abolition of Thailand’s lèse majesté laws in Germany and Denmark, including deliver of a letter to King Vajiralongkorn in Munich.
2018 Campaigning on all fronts including regular, live, thematised, on-line discussion under the name Action for People's Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM).
2019 Work (Jan - Jun.) in collaboration with Suolahden työttömät ry. collating material on the struggle for justice of Thai workers imported to Finland by the forest-berry industry for publication and public briefings.