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Thailand's seafood industry: state-sanctioned slavery?

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  • Thailand's seafood industry: state-sanctioned slavery?

    Thailand's seafood industry: a case of state-sanctioned slavery?
    Felicity Lawrence
    Tuesday 10 June 2014

    Burmese migrant workers leave the port of Mahachai, Thailand, after unloading their catch.
    Photograph: Chris Kelly

  • #2


    • #3
      Two missing after escape from Thai fishing trawler
      11 June 2014

      A migrant worker from Burma unloads fish and prawns in Mahachai, Thailand.
      (Feliz Solomon/DVB)


      • #4
        Report: Shrimp Sold at Walmart and Costco Are Produced by Slave Labor


        Next time you're out buying seafood, consider getting the lobster. A Guardian report revealsthat shrimp sold across the U.S. and U.K. are produced in part by slaves off the coast of Thailand who endure unimaginable violence and abuse.
        Charoen Pokphand Foods, or CP Foods, the world's largest shrimp farmer, is based in Thailand, and sells to retailers incluing Walmart, Costco, and Tesco. To feed its shrimp, the company uses a product called fishmeal, which it buys from suppliers who operate ships manned by men who are unwillingly sold into labor.
        The Guardian, which spoke with several escaped slaves, reports truly horrifying conditions on the fishmeal ships. Laborers work 20-hour days for no pay, and are tortured, beaten, and sometimes murdered. Some are given meth as fuel for a long shift. One former slave described the experience as such:

        Another man detailed witnessing an unfathomably gruesome killing:
        Another trafficking victim said he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea.
        When asked about the slavery, a CP spokesman claimed the company does not have "visibility" of the extent of the "issues" in its supply chain:
        "We're not here to defend what is going on," said Bob Miller, CP Foods' UK managing director. "We know there's issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don't have visibility."
        "We can do nothing, and witness these social and environmental issues destroy the seas around Thailand, or we can help drive improvement plans. We are making good progress."
        The government, by the admission of one of its own, is complicit in the practice. Because boat owners depend on slave brokers, an anonymous official told the Guardian, the state would rather turn a blind eye to the abuse.
        All of the retailers contacted for the story said they were against human trafficking and forced labor, and several claimed to be working with CP Foods to end the practice. Of course, there's something everyone can do to pitch in while CP is still buying from slave ships, stores are still buying from CP, and the Thai government is allowing all of it to happen: stop buying shrimp.
        Last edited by Jackthelad; 06-11-2014, 07:19 PM.
        Who are you to judge the life I live?
        I know I'm not perfect
        -and I don't live to be-
        but before you start pointing fingers...
        make sure you hands are clean!�
        Bob Marley


        • #5
          This could well be politics at play here.

          Saying that there is a estimated 21 million supposed to be in slavery, why we not hear about more of this, the multi nationals do very well from slavery.
          Who are you to judge the life I live?
          I know I'm not perfect
          -and I don't live to be-
          but before you start pointing fingers...
          make sure you hands are clean!�
          Bob Marley


          • #6
            Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns



            • #7
              Last edited by Mid; 06-14-2014, 09:51 AM. Reason: added link


              • #8
                CPF chief defends labour policy

                The Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) chief has defended the company's policy of protecting labourers and improving Thailand's fishing industry.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jackthelad View Post

                  This could well be politics at play here.

                  This has been underreported for a number of years now

                  Last edited by Mid; 06-21-2014, 08:02 PM. Reason: addd link


                  • #10
                    Slave labour in fishery could cost Thailand dearly
                    Margie Mason

                    AMBON, INDONESIA: He was too sick to eat, and Min Min Chan's chest ached with each breath he sucked. It didn't matter: The Thai captain warned him to get back on deck and start hauling fish onto the trawler or be tossed overboard.

                    As a 17-year-old slave stuck in the middle of the sea, he knew no one would come looking if he simply vanished.

                    Less than a month earlier, Chan had left Myanmar for Thailand, looking for work. Instead, he said a broker tricked and sold him onto the fishing boat for $616. He ended up far away in Indonesian waters before even realising what was happening.

                    Tens of thousands of invisible migrants like Chan stream into Thailand every year. Many are used as forced labour in various industries, especially on long-haul fishing boats that catch seafood eaten in the US and around the world. Others are dragged into the sex industry. Ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers from neighboring Myanmar are also held for ransom in abysmal jungle camps.

                    This coming week, when a US report on human trafficking comes out, Thailand may be punished for allowing such exploitation. The country has been on a US State Department human trafficking watch list for the past four years. Washington warned in last year's report that without major improvements, it would be dropped to the lowest rung, Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Syria, Iran and Zimbabwe.

                    Though Thailand says it is trying to prevent such abuses and punish traffickers, its authorities have been part of the problem. The US has said the involvement of corrupt officials appears to be widespread, from protecting brothels and workplaces to cooperating directly with traffickers.

                    Burmese trafficking victim Min Min Chan waits with others for a bus that will take them to their transit hotel before returning to their country, at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.
                    (AP Photo)

                    A downgrade could lead the US to pull back certain forms of foreign support and exchange programs as well as oppose assistance from international financial institutions such as the World Bank. Washington has already cut some military assistance following last month's military coup.

                    Thailand is paying a US public relations company $51,000 a month to help in its push for better standing. The government issued a progress report for 2013, noting that investigations, prosecutions and the budget for anti-trafficking work all were on the rise.

                    "We recognise that it's a very serious, very significant problem, and we've been building a legal and bureaucratic framework to try to address these issues," said Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Thailand's ambassador to the US. "We feel that we have turned a corner and are making great progress in this area."

                    At least 38 Thai police officers were punished last year or are being investigated for involvement in trafficking, but none has stood trial yet. Four companies have been fined, and criminal charges against five others are pending. But the government has pulled the licences of only two of the country's numerous labour recruitment agencies.

                    In Geneva on Wednesday, Thailand was the only government in the world to vote against a new UN international treaty that combats forced labour by, among other things, strengthening victims' access to compensation. Several countries abstained.

                    "Thailand tries to portray itself as the victim while, at the same time, it's busy taking advantage of everybody it can who's coming through the country," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. ``The exploitation of migrants, the trafficking, it comes through Thailand because people know they can pay people in the government and in the police to look the other way."

                    Common nightmare

                    Chan's story is a common nightmare. A recruiter showed up in his village in Myanmar, offering good money to work on a fishing boat in Thailand. Chan said that after sneaking across the border by foot, he was sold onto a boat by the broker and told to hide inside to avoid being seen by Thai authorities.

                    " 'You have to work at least six months. After that, you can go back home,' " Chan said the captain told him. "I decided, 'I can work for six months on this boat.' "

                    But after the ship docked 17 days later on eastern Indonesia's Ambon island, Chan met other Burmese workers who told a very different story: There was no six-month contract and no escape. Now thousands of kilometres from home, he realised he no longer owned his life -- it had become a debt that must be paid.

                    Ambon, in the Banda Sea, is peppered with churches and pristine dive sites. At the port, deep-sea fishermen in tattered T-shirts and rubber boots form human chains on boats, tossing bag after bag of frozen snapper and other fish into pickup trucks bound for cold storage. Much of it will later be shipped to Thailand for export.

                    A worker unloads frozen fish from a Thai fishing boat at a port in Ambon, Indonesia.
                    (AP Photo)

                    They speak Burmese, Thai and other languages. Their skin is dark from the sun, and some faces look far older than their ropey bodies.

                    On the cramped boat, Chan said he slept only about three hours a night alongside 17 other men, mostly Burmese, sometimes working on just one meal of rice and fish a day. There was no fresh water for drinking or bathing, only boiled sea water with a briny taste.

                    In his first month at sea, he got sick and didn't eat for three days. He was sleeping when the captain threatened him.

                    "Why are you not working? Why are you taking a rest?" Chan recalled him saying. "Do we have to throw you off into the water?"

                    Some of Chan's friends carried him onto the deck, where he was given medicine before getting back to work.

                    For the next year, he laboured, hauling up thousands of kilogrammes of fish as he tried to shake a stubborn cough. He saw land every couple of months, but there was no way to leave the port.

                    He said he was given occasional packs of cigarettes, noodles and coffee, but he never got paid.

                    continues below ........................


                    • #11
                      Major export business

                      Thailand exported $7 billion worth of seafood last year, making it the world's third-largest exporter. Most went to Japan and the US, where it is the third-largest foreign supplier.

                      The United Nations estimates the seafood industry employs 2 million people, but it still faces a massive worker shortage. Many Thais are unwilling to take the low-paid, dangerous jobs that can require fishermen to be at sea for months or even years at a time.

                      An estimated 200,000 migrants, mostly from Myanmar and Cambodia, are labouring on Thai boats, according to the Bangkok-based nonprofit group Raks Thai Foundation. Some go voluntarily, but a UN survey last year of nearly 600 workers in the fishing industry found that almost none had a signed contract, and about 40% had wages cut without explanation. Children were also found on board.

                      A 2009 UN report found that about six out of 10 migrant workers on Thai fishing boats reported seeing a co-worker killed. Chan faced abuse himself and saw one sick Burmese fisherman die. The captain simply dumped the body overboard.

                      Thailand's progress report highlighted increased boat and workplace inspections, but the US has said those do not combat trafficking in an industry where "overall impunity for exploitative labour practices" is seen. The US recommends increased prosecutions of employers involved in human trafficking.

                      Another challenge surrounds the recent influx of Rohingya Muslims. An estimated 75,000 have fled Myanmar since communal violence exploded there two years ago, according to Chris Lewa of the nonprofit Arakan Project.

                      Many Rohingya brought to Thailand are held at rubber plantations or forest camps by armed guards until they can find a way to pay the typical asking price of $2,000 for their release, according to victims and rights groups. Those who get the money often cross the border into Malaysia, where tens of thousands of Rohingya have found refuge. Those who don't are sometimes sold for sex, forced labour, or they are simply left to die.

                      The Thai government, however, does not address these asylum seekers as trafficking victims in its report. It said fleeing Rohingya enter Thailand willingly, even though it admits "most of them fall prey to smugglers and illegal middlemen".

                      However, Mr Vijavat, the ambassador to Washington, said some cases were now being treated as trafficking.

                      Rights groups allege corrupt Thai officials are sometimes involved, including deporting Rohingya straight back into traffickers' hands.

                      Seven years in limbo

                      After a year on the boat, Chan finally started getting paid: about $87 every two months. He continued working for a total of three and a half years, until he started coughing blood and became too weak to continue.

                      When he asked the captain if he could go home, he was told to get back to work.

                      "I thought it was better to die by jumping into the water than to die by being tortured by these people," he said. "When I was about to jump, my friend grabbed me from the back and saved me."

                      His crew members instead convinced him to slip away the next time they made land, and he eventually escaped into Ambon where a local woman helped him get treatment for tuberculosis. After recovering, he decided to stay with her, and she treated him like a son. He worked odd jobs for the next four years, but never stopped dreaming of home.

                      Finally, at age 24, he found someone at Indonesia's immigration office willing to help. And in March, the International Organization for Migration arranged for him and 21 other trafficked Burmese fishermen to fly home.

                      Hours before boarding the plane, Chan wondered what would be left of his old life when he landed. More than seven years had passed without a letter or a phone call. He had no idea if he would be able to find his family, or even if they were still alive.

                      "After I knew the broker sold me into slavery ... I felt so sad," he said. "When I left Myanmar, I had a great life."



                      • #12
                        Thai Shrimp Supplier Dismisses Alleged Links to Slave Labour
                        14 June 2014

                        BANGKOK (DPA)


                        • #13
                          Ica, a Norwegian retailer, announced that it would remove products linked to CP foods from its shelves in response to The Guardian report.



                          • #14
                            Southern Police Inspect Fishing Boats In Search Of Human Traffickers
                            19 June 2014



                            • #15
                              Norwegian supermarket ICA follows Carrefour in pulling plug on CP Foods
                              June 19, 2014

                              The Norwegian subsidiary of the Swedish supermarket chain ICA has withdrawn the one product it sells from Thai producer Charoen Pokphand Foods.

                              ICA Norway is the second supermarket to withdraw sales of CP Foods products. On June 13, Carrefour said it was suspending all purchases from the Thai company as a result of allegations of slave labor used on boats supplying CP Foods fishmeal plants revealed by the Guardianamounted to $4 million last year, or 0.03% of its total revenues.

                              The Guardian also named Costco, Walmart and Tesco as supermarkets buying from CP Foods. Unlike Carrefour, however, Costco said it was sticking to its contract argument made by CP Foods


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