Efforts by the European Union to bring Thailand’s fishing industry in line with international standards have failed to stamp out rampant rights abuses, according to a new report by NGO Human Rights Watch.
Migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia are often trafficked into jobs on fishing fleets, prevented from changing employers, not paid on time, and paid below the minimum wage, says the report, titled ‘Hidden Chains: Forced Labour and Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Fishing Industry’, which was released at the European Parliament today.
“Consumers in Europe, the US, and Japan should be confident that their seafood from Thailand didn’t involve trafficked or forced labour,” HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
“Yet despite high-profile commitments by the Thai government to clean up the fishing industry, problems are rampant.”
In April 2015, the European Commission issued a “yellow card” warning to Thailand that it could face a ban on exporting seafood to its member states because of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices.
The threat came amid reports linking seafood being sold by major retailers to slavery on Thai fishing fleets.
However, HRW said that despite pledges of reform, the Thai government “has not taken the steps necessary to end forced labour and other serious abuses on fishing boats.”
Interviews with hundreds of current and former fishing industry workers since 2016 have brought up renewed allegations of issues including forced labour, excessive working hours and exploitative payment systems, the report says.
“Our money is with [the owner], so he can decide to give us permission [to change jobs] or not. They hold all the power and we can’t do anything,” one Cambodian migrant told HRW in November 2016.
The report calls on the EU and its member states to urge the Thai government to adopt new laws and amend existing ones to end abuses, and to publicly state that Thailand’s current ‘yellow card’ status cannot be upgraded without "substantive progress”.
HRW also urged international producers, buyers and retailers to adopt a “key role in ensuring that forced labor and other abuses come to an end.”