Trafficking still rampant in Thai fishing industry, report says
The Thai government still has not taken measures needed to stop forced labor and other serious abuses in its fishing industry, according to a report released in January 2018 by Human Rights Watch.
“Consumers in Europe, the U.S., and Japan should be confident that their seafood from Thailand didn’t involve trafficked or forced labor,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Yet, despite high-profile commitments by the Thai government to clean up the fishing industry, problems are rampant.”
The 134-page report, “Hidden Chains: Forced Labor and Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Fishing Industry,” describes how migrant fishers from neighboring countries in Southeast Asia are often trafficked into fishing work, prevented from changing employers, not paid on time and paid below the minimum wage. Migrant workers do not receive Thai labor law protections and do not have the right to form a labor union, the report said.
The Thai government has implemented improvements since a rash of media stories in 2014 and 2015 exposed the brutalization of fishermen on Thai fishing boats, and the European Commission issued a warning to Thailand that it could face sanctions as a noncooperating country in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in 2015, the report said. However, much more work remains to curb problems.
Thailand has overhauled fishing industry monitoring, control and managements processes and set up interagency inspections. Thailand has also toughened its laws and penalties for infringing on the rights of fishermen, the report found.
“Yet, they have had little effect on human rights abuses that workers face at the hands of ship owners, senior crew, brokers and police officers,” the report said. “Meanwhile, the impact of stronger regulatory controls on improving conditions of work at sea has been limited as a result of poor implementation and enforcement.”
Although some of the new tools and measures, such as vessel monitoring systems and limiting time at sea to 30 days, have improved conditions for fishermen, other newly established procedures have inadvertently enabled corrupt actors to hide coercive activities behind the guise of compliance paperwork because actual labor practices at sea are going unchecked, the report said.
“The Thai government’s lack of commitment means that regulations and programs to prevent forced labor in the fishing industry are failing,” Adams said.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 248 current and former fishermen, almost all from Burma and Cambodia, as well as Thai government officials, boat owners and captains, civil society activists, fishing association representatives, and United Nations agency staff from 2015 to 2017. (Pictured: Burmese workers sort fish at a Thai fishery.)
“International producers, buyers, and retailers of Thai seafood have a key role in ensuring that forced labor and other abuses come to an end,” Adams said.
The report calls for Thailand to enact a stand-alone law that prohibits all forms of forced labor and for labor inspectors to be empowered with resources and tools necessary to properly investigate abuses. “Recruitment into the fishing industry should be fair,” the report said.
Luisa Ragher, deputy of the EU delegation in Thailand, told theguardian.com, an online international news site, that the EU will work with the Thai government to address labor violations.
“The government of Thailand has given high priority to this and put significant effort into addressing these problems. There are still shortcomings, but progress has been made, and we are confident of their commitment to improving things,” she said. “We are working intensively at opening up a broader discussion on labor rights that extends past fishing into other sectors.”