BRUSSELS – Human Rights Watch condemned on Tuesday the work conditions and human trafficking prevalent in the Thai fishing industry, and urged the European Union and the United States to put greater pressure on the Asian country to respect human rights.
In the report – titled “Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry” presented at the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday –, HRW criticizes the measures taken by the Thai government so far, considering them to be ineffective and often prioritizing form over results.
“Consumers in Europe, the US, and Japan should be confident that their seafood from Thailand didn’t involve trafficked or forced labor,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.
In the report, which also has an accompanying 15-minute documentary, HRW describes how fishermen from neighboring Southeast Asian countries are victims of human trafficking and are forced to work on the fringes of the country’s labor laws.
The investigation acknowledges that Thailand has increased monitoring and passed several laws to end illegal fishing and labor abuse, after multiple cases of immigrants being forced to work in situations resembling slavery in fishing ships or factories.
The initiatives were a response to the European Commission’s “yellow card” warning to Thailand as well as reports by the US regarding human trafficking.
“The European Commission in April 2015 issued a “yellow card” warning to Thailand, identifying it as a possible non-cooperating country in fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“A subsequent ‘red card’ would lead to European Union sanctions,” the report said.
However, HRW reported that the results of the measures undertaken to end forced labor have not been satisfactory and cases of abuse continue to be widespread.
HRW said in the report that the labor inspection regime is largely a theatrical exercise for international consumption, given that in most cases it is limited to speaking with the captains of the vessels and not with the fishers.
“The Thai government’s lack of commitment means that regulations and programs to prevent forced labor in the fishing industry are failing. The EU and US urgently need to increase pressure on Thailand to protect the rights, health, and safety of fishers,” Adams added.
The research was carried out based on an investigation carried out between 2015-2017, after interviewing 248 current and former fishers, as well as Thai government officials, boat owners and captains, civil society activists, fishing association representatives, and United Nations agency staff.