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

  1. #11
    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 ........................

  2. #12
    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."

  3. #13
    Thai Shrimp Supplier Dismisses Alleged Links to Slave Labour
    14 June 2014

    BANGKOK (DPA) — Thai food giant Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods fended off allegations it was complicit in forced labour in its supply chain, levelled by a British newspaper, a report said Saturday.

    The company was "aware of the issue" of alleged trafficked labour involved in its shrimp production, and was working with the Thai fisheries authorities on its sustainability practices, chief executive Adirak Sripratak was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.

    French retailer Carrefour said a day earlier it was suspending all purchasing from CP Foods, after a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Tuesday said Thailand's shrimp farmers, including CP, were buying feed made from fish caught using forced labour.

    "At present we don't buy fishmeal without certified documents [from the Fisheries Department]," Adirak said.

    The Guardian report said "large numbers of men [are] bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand."

    Many were illegal migrants from neighbouring countries hoping for job in plantations or factories, but who stumbled into the clutches of brokers who sold them to the boat operators, it said.

    The boats supply a range of fish, including so-called trash fish, unusable for human consumption, which is ground up into shrimp feed.

    Carrefour said its suspension was "a precautionary measure" until more investigations were made.

    Environmental Justice Foundation executive director Steve Trent welcomed the retailer's response.

    "Carrefour's decision should spur all companies selling Thai seafood to take similar action and carry out rigorous, independent audits of their entire supply chain, no matter who their suppliers are."

  4. #14
    Ica, a Norwegian retailer, announced that it would remove products linked to CP foods from its shelves in response to The Guardian report.

  5. #15
    Southern Police Inspect Fishing Boats In Search Of Human Traffickers
    19 June 2014

    SATUL — Marine police in Satul province inspected fishing boats manned by Burmese workers today to look for potential human traffickers and drug use.

    The inspection was overseen by Prayoon Rattanasenee, deputy governor of Satul, and carried out by a combined force of police officers, Royal Thai Navy servicemen, and social workers.

    The officials selected fishing boats at random off of Thailand’s western coast and boarded them to inspect their crews. According to Mr. Prayoon, the inspection found no breach of laws on any of the boats.

    Mr. Prayoon told Khaosod that the officials want to ensure the welfare and safety of workers on Thai fishing boats, especially migrant workers.

    "Many agencies in Satul are enforcing strict measures to monitor the condition of workers' lives, food, residences," Mr. Prayoon said. "We are also working to root out the human trafficking network in the fishing industry. It's a major problem in Satul province."

    The search came after a series of events have brought Thailand's weak record of combating human trafficking into global spotlight. Earlier this month, the British newspaper The Guardian revealed that more than 200,000 Burmese migrants are trafficked into Thailand to work as slaves in the Thai seafood and fishing industry. According to the investigative report, thousands of Burmese migrants pay brokers to help them cross the border and find work in Thailand, but are instead sold on to "slave vessels" and subject to deplorable working conditions and abuse.

    Days later, Thailand incurred a fresh wave of criticsim from human rights groups after it was the only country to vote against a U.N. treaty requiring countries to punish perpetrators of forced labor.

    Before reversing its decision, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country voted against the protocol because “Thailand has to seriously consider her own readiness to implement such an instrument, in conformity with relevant Thai laws.”

    After a week of bad press, Thai officials are now bracing themselves for another blow. The US State Department is set to release its annual human Trafficking in Persons report (TIP) on Friday, and Thailand is expected to drop down to the lowest rank. If Thailand is downgraded to Tier 3, it may face economic sanctions and the withdrawal of financial aid.
    In the past week, over 200,000 Cambodians have fled Thailand out of fear that the Thai military regime is preparing to crackdown on migrant workers.

    However, deputy governor of Satul Mr. Prayoon said he has not received any reports of migrant workers in Satul heading back to their home countries. Most of the migrant workers in Satul are from Myanmar, not Cambodia.

    Mr. Prayoon also urged operators of fishing boats in Satul who have not legally registered their migrant workers to do so in the near future.

  6. #16
    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 Guardian newspaper.

    ICA Norway sells only one product from CP Foods, ‘EastCoast scampi on sticks’, supplied by the distributor Sletten Norge. The product has now been withdrawn from shelves, said ICA.
    CP Foods had said its total sales with Carrefour amounted 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 with CP Foods, stating an aim to drive change among its suppliers by staying involved — echoing the argument made by CP Foods days earlier.

    In a statement, ICA Norway said it was taking the allegations of slave labor seriously and would follow up the issue with Sletten Norge.

    “We are taking this very seriously,” said communications director Bjornar Mickelson. “We have stopped sales of the product and it will not be back because the distributor has cleaned up with its sub-distributors and can show that everything is in accordance with our strict criteria.”

  7. #17
    Whole Foods drops CP
    June 21, 2014

    Whole Foods is no longer sourcing from CP Foods in light of concerns about human rights violations in its supply chain.

    This comes after recent allegations from the Guardian that the Thai-based food conglomerate’s shrimp feed division sources from fishing boats that use slave labor — an allegation compounded on Friday with negative report from the US State Department, which downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 status for lack of a “significant” effort to correct its prevalent human trafficking problem, particularly in the fishing industry.

    “Whole Foods Market takes a zero tolerance approach to human rights violations anywhere in our supply chain, and our suppliers sign a contract to uphold that standard,” told Undercurrent after the TIP report release on Friday. “We have suspended our business with CP Food Products until they are able to provide us with substantiation that they have properly addressed the issue of human rights violations in their supply chain.”

    This is a similar approach to Carrefour, which also walked away from CP Foods due to allegations of slave labor in the company’s supply chain, and Norwegian retailer ICA is following suit.

    Whole Foods’ approach, ironically, is precisely the opposite of that of CP Foods, which told Undercurrent it could have decided to walk away from its supply chain but has decided instead to use its weight to drive progress.

    Since the Guardian’s report surfaced on June 10, CP Foods has begun an audit of its entire supply chain.

    Every person from every factory to every fishing boat working for the company or one of its suppliers “must, as an absolute minimum, be treated fairly and with dignity at all times”, said CP Foods.

    “To this end we are currently in the process of auditing our entire operation, so that we can denounce slavery across each and every aspect of our supply chain, [and] put in place and implement an independent spot check coordinated system for ensuring that our supply chain is and continues to be slavery free long term.”

  8. #18
    Thai fishing industry not affected
    June 25, 2014

    The Ministry of Commerce says Thailand’s fishing industry was not affected by the United States’ decision to downgrade Thailand to Tier-3 in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, claiming that most customers still have trust in Thai fishery products.

    The ministry’s permanent secretary Srirath Ratthapana said on Wednesday that there had been relatively minor impacts on the Thai fishery with exports to the United States and the European Union following the Tier 3 downgrade.

    She explained that most customers still voiced their understanding of the current situation, while orders from other export markets for the Thai fishing industry including Japan, China and South Korea remained unchanged with orders coming as usual.

    Srirath, however, admitted that the downgrade may affect the Thai fishery sector psychologically.

    But she said she has instructed Thai commercial attaches in the US and the EU to quickly inform trade partners about the current situation.

    However, many companies still voiced their confidence on the quality of the Thai fisheries products.

    About 20.9 percent of the Thai fisheries products exported to the US last year, while exports to the EU reached 13.1 per cent and exports to other markets such as Japan covered 31.1 per cent of global market.

  9. #19
    However, many companies still voiced their confidence on the quality of the Thai fisheries products.

    Quality IS NOT the issue .

    Human Trafficking , Slavery and Child Labour IS .

  10. #20
    Western Firms React to Burmese Slave Labor Accusations in Thailand
    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

    A Thai employer, left, monitors migrant workers from Burma working on his fishing boat at a port in the town of Mahachai near Bangkok on March 11, 2010.

    (Photo: Reuters / Damir Sagolj)

    A US human rights group is calling on major Western food retailing companies to put pressure on businesses in Thailand after a major Thai conglomerate was linked to allegations of trafficking and slave labor involving Burmese migrants.

    The call for action comes from the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) following an investigation into Thailand’s fishing industry, which employs thousands of Burmese migrant workers.

    The investigation, by The Guardian newspaper of London, spotlighted the plight of “large numbers of men who have been bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand” and who were part of the “production of prawns sold in leading supermarkets around the world.”

    The newspaper identified CP Foods as being closely tied to supply chains that include Thai fishing boats using Burmese slave labor. Two Western supermarket chain companies, including France-based Carrefour, have already stopped buying supplies from CP Foods in the wake of The Guardian report.

    “Swift action is vital, and action from [prawn] buyers can significantly improve conditions for the workers along their supply chains,” ILRF campaigns director Abby Mills told The Irrawaddy. “ILRF does not, however, advocate a cut and run approach.”

    “Cutting relationships with suppliers without first trying to address the underlying problems can leave exploited workers in bad situations without options for redress. Western companies should work with their Thai counterparts to make real changes that increase supply chain transparency, improve mechanisms to identify labor law violations and empower workers to report and seek remedy,” Mills said.

    “Companies have an important role to play in setting certain standards for their suppliers, and enforcing them all the way down the supply chain, that could dramatically improve livelihoods and working conditions for these workers.” That kind of response begins to get at the root causes of why labor trafficking is so prevalent in the Thai seafood sector, Mills said.

    The call for action by the ILRF comes as Thailand is embarrassingly scolded by the United States for its failure to tackle migrant labor abuse in the country.

    The US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released last week, downgraded Thailand’s status to the lowest tier, placing it in the same category as North Korea, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry said the aim of the report was to remind the world “of what happens in many dark places that need light.”

    Previous US reports on human trafficking had urged Bangkok to deal with the problem, but this year marks the first time the State Department has downgraded Thailand.

    Bangkok-based CP Foods is part of the sprawling CP Group, which has business interests across Southeast Asia and China with an annual turnover of about US$33 billion—more than half the size of Burma’s GDP in 2013.

    “The investigation found that the world’s largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves,” said The Guardian.

    Among other things, it alleged that migrants pressganged onto fishing boats had been forced to work 20-hour days, beaten and tortured. Fifteen Burmese and Cambodians interviewed by the newspaper said they had paid brokers to help them find work in Thai factories or on building sites.

    “But they had been sold instead to boat captains, sometimes for as little as £250 [US$426]. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them,” The Guardian reported.

    Shrimps sold by leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, had come from CP Foods, it said.

    “At the heart of the problem is Thailand’s treatment of its migrant workforce,” said the ILRF’s Mills.

    “At the end of 2013, there were an estimated 3-4 million migrant workers in Thailand. The majority of these workers, 80 percent, came from Burma to work in the most dangerous, dirty jobs, including manufacturing, seafood harvesting and processing, and domestic work,” Mills said.

    “Complex, expensive immigration policies and labor laws that bind migrant workers to their employer also leave them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Endemic police corruption, including the direct involvement in and facilitation of human trafficking by law enforcement officials, perpetuates the problem,” according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons report from the US Department of State.

    CP Group was in the spotlight in 2013 over the treatment of Burmese workers at one of its seafood processing factories south of Bangkok. The firm fired 160 Burmese without notice or proper compensation at its Mahachai coastal factory in a process that involved dubious sub-contractors.

    The firm agreed to re-instate the workers following the intervention of NGOs and the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.

    CP Group, which employs 280,000 people worldwide and operates the world’s third-largest 7-Eleven convenience store franchise, has expressed interest in investing in rice and maize farms, milling plants and meat processing factories in Burma.

    CP Foods in Bangkok declined to comment to The Irrawaddy on the allegations in The Guardian, which quoted a company spokesman in Britain, Bob Miller, saying slavery was indefensible. “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,” Miller told the paper.

    The revelations about slave labor come as the military coup leaders in Thailand have ordered a targeting of migrant labor in general in the country. There have been numerous reports of soldiers and police raiding businesses employing Burmese and Cambodians.

    Tens of thousands of Cambodians and an unknown number of Burmese, mostly undocumented workers, have been sent back across their borders. Reports have said that even legally documented Burmese are being harassed by the authorities since the Army took over the country.

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