Executive Briefings

Human Rights Abuse Persists in Thai Fishing Industry

Forced labor and other rights abuses are widespread in Thailand’s fishing fleets despite government commitments to comprehensive reforms, which in some cases have made the situation worse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released last week.

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.

Human Rights Watch found widespread shortcomings in the implementation of new government regulations and resistance in the fishing industry to reforms. The charity interviewed 248 current and former fishers, 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. Of those interviewed, 95 were former fishers who survived human trafficking, while the other 153 were, with a few exceptions, still active fishers. The research was carried out in every one of Thailand’s major fishing ports from 2015 to 2017.

Thailand has received a “yellow card” warning that it could face a ban on exporting seafood to the European Union because of its illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, and the U.S. has placed Thailand on the Tier 2 Watch List in its latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The Thai government has responded to pressure by scrapping antiquated fishing laws and issuing a new ordinance to regulate the fishing industry. The government extended application of the key provisions of labor law regulating wages and conditions of work to fishing vessels and established in law some International Labour Organization (ILO) treaty provisions through adoption of the 2014 Ministerial Regulation concerning Labour Protection in Sea Fishery Work. Migrant fishers were required to have legal documents and be accounted for on crew lists as boats departed and returned to port, helping to end some of the worst abuses, such as captains killing crew members. Thailand also created the Port-in, Port-out (PIPO) system to require boats to report for inspections as they departed and returned to port, and established procedures for inspection of fishing vessels at sea.

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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.

Human Rights Watch found widespread shortcomings in the implementation of new government regulations and resistance in the fishing industry to reforms. The charity interviewed 248 current and former fishers, 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. Of those interviewed, 95 were former fishers who survived human trafficking, while the other 153 were, with a few exceptions, still active fishers. The research was carried out in every one of Thailand’s major fishing ports from 2015 to 2017.

Thailand has received a “yellow card” warning that it could face a ban on exporting seafood to the European Union because of its illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, and the U.S. has placed Thailand on the Tier 2 Watch List in its latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The Thai government has responded to pressure by scrapping antiquated fishing laws and issuing a new ordinance to regulate the fishing industry. The government extended application of the key provisions of labor law regulating wages and conditions of work to fishing vessels and established in law some International Labour Organization (ILO) treaty provisions through adoption of the 2014 Ministerial Regulation concerning Labour Protection in Sea Fishery Work. Migrant fishers were required to have legal documents and be accounted for on crew lists as boats departed and returned to port, helping to end some of the worst abuses, such as captains killing crew members. Thailand also created the Port-in, Port-out (PIPO) system to require boats to report for inspections as they departed and returned to port, and established procedures for inspection of fishing vessels at sea.

Read full article