Thailand’s recent election winner, the Move Forward party, and the Prime Minister’s Pheu Thai party recently published policy positions that would reduce regulation and transparency around fishing vessels’ activities. The problematic proposals include permitting child labor and weakening measures put in place to prevent the abuses and labor exploitation previously documented in the Thai fishing sector.
Unlocking fisheries would undo hard-won reforms
Responding to the proposed rollback, this week 84 civil society organizations (CSOs) released a joint public statement urging Thailand’s Prime Minister not to allow a return to past horrors uncovered in Thai fisheries. These groups include the Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace, Conservation International, Oxfam, and Oceana.
Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said:
“Thailand can’t afford for its fisheries to return to the state they were in before the reforms…(these) hard-won reforms have meant that marine ecosystems in Thailand have started to recover, and human rights abuses are decreasing.”
A report by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking from 2009, before the reforms, found almost 60% of migrant fishing crews in Thailand witnessed extrajudicial executions at sea among many other forms of labor exploitation and human rights violations. The joint statement calls for reforms to transparency mechanisms and regulations on illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing directives to be strengthened rather than diminished.
Boat crews report “never feeling free”
In the same U.N. report, numerous academics and journalists who conducted interviews with Thai fishing crews before the reforms, between 2009 and 2014, found that 80% reported never feeling free. On top of that, 68% reported experiencing sexual or physical violence while on board the boats.
“Following decades of unscrupulous operators fishing unsustainably and abusing their workers…it will take very little to reverse this good work…the safety of the fisheries workforce (would be) jeopardized once again.”
Since the US Department of State and the European Commission took action against Thai vessel operators due to these reports, Thailand fell from third in the world for seafood exports in 2012 to thirteenth in 2021. The existing reforms have been successful in decreasing the incidences of human rights abuses and IUU fishing. But the country’s hard-won successes which have restored Thailand’s reputation as a leader in the region are again at risk.
Freedom United community: part of the impact then and now
To help support needed changes to the Thailand fishing industry, Freedom United joined with Anti-Slavery International and Sum Of Us to urge Walmart, Carrefour, and Costco to eliminate modern slavery in the fishing industry by signing up for Project Issara. Project Issara is a local project investigating and resolving cases of slavery in the fishing industry and enforcing zero-tolerance policies on forced labor through regular inspections of their supply chains.
Our campaign was successful in encouraging Tesco and Walmart to sign up for Project Issara in line with the campaign requests. Freedom United is committed to ensuring these positive changes to the Thai fishing industry remain in place and will continue to monitor the situation and lend our voice to protecting fishery workers from abuse and modern slavery wherever it is taking place. Read more about the background and achievements of this campaign here.