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Thailand on the verge of returning fisheries to exploitative conditions, warn advocates

  • Published on
    April 15, 2024
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Law & Policy
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Thailand is considering significant amendments to its fisheries laws, raising concerns about the protection of workers and the sustainability of its seafood industry.

Prioritizing profit over protection

The proposed changes include reduced penalties for illegal fishing and deregulation of destructive fishing methods, raising fears of a resurgence in unethical and unsustainable practices. Moreover, labor protections, particularly for migrant workers at sea, are also under threat.

Behind these changes is the National Fisheries Association of Thailand (NFAT), representing 58 commercial fishing operations, which complains of profit losses and finding it difficult to hire workers. The NFAT is an influential lobby, much courted before recent elections and wholly supported in Parliament.

Parliament members across parties were united in a vote of 416 – 0 in approving the first reading of the proposal to loosen regulation in the fishing industry and is that much closer to a consolidated draft policy.

“A dramatic U-turn”

Critics warn that weakening regulations could harm Thailand’s hard fought for reputation and jeopardize its seafood exports, potentially leading to sanctions from major trade partners.

Thailand is a success story in terms of improving its protection of migrant and local workers in the fishing industry where conditions were so dangerous, the U.N. reported that 60% of migrant fishing crews in Thailand had witnessed extrajudicial executions at sea among many other forms of labor exploitation and human rights violations.

Reforms that took place after 2015 had been successful in decreasing the incidences of human rights abuses and illegal and unregulated fishing. Thailand had been downgraded from a tier 3 (high risk) to level 1 in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report and from a red card to a yellow card by the European Union. Now, workers could be in jeopardy once again.

Deputy director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, Dominic Thomson, told CNA,

One of the most significant concerns is the potential rollback of transparency mechanisms designed to prevent labor abuses and slavery at sea. Without adequate safeguards, the industry risks becoming a hotbed for exploitation and human rights violations.

Freedom United says no to labor protection rollbacks!

As Thailand navigates the complexities of fisheries law reform, striking a balance between economic interests and ethical responsibilities remains paramount. The government must prioritize the well-being of workers, ensuring that any legislative changes uphold international standards and uphold human rights principles.

“One thing is clear,” remarked a labor rights advocate. “Weakening protections for workers is a slippery slope that could have dire consequences for both labor rights and environmental conservation efforts.”

Freedom United played a role in the effort to create change in the Thai fishing industry by urging Walmart, Carrefour, and Costco to sign up for Project Issara, 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. We are prepared to join the fray once again if needed.

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