Thailand’s Seafood Slaves

Date: November 30, 2015

Source & Author: EJF

An EJF investigation has uncovered a sophisticated system of slavery and severe human rights abuses aboard “pirate” fishing vessels operating from the Thai fishing port of Kantang. The new report, Thailand’s Seafood Slaves, lays out detailed evidence of the abuses and names those responsible. 

Key findings from the investigation:
  • Identify and name key individuals involved – including the company “enforcer” allegedly responsible for multiple murders – in a sophisticated system for trafficking, exploitation and violent abuse of vulnerable migrant workers. Intelligence is corroborated by in-depth interviews with victims of slavery escaped from key fishing operators;
  • Show how one of the most powerful individuals in Kantang, the owner of the Boonlarp Fishing company, Sompon Jirotmontree, who controls a fleet of 62 fishing vessels and is President of the Kantang Fishing Association, has run his operations using forced and slave labour, while many workers were murdered by his security guard;
  • Document the route and processes used to enslave trafficked workers from Myanmar on to fishing boats;
  • Provide detailed eye-witness testimony to the violence and murders at sea on fishing vessels and on land;
  • Report corruption and involvement of local police in the on-going human rights abuses and illegal fishing operations;
  • Highlight the nexus between the illegal pirate fishing operations, exploitation and use of bonded, forced and slave labour.
EJF’s new report comes as Thailand faces increasing global pressure to address human trafficking and the use of bonded, forced and slave labour and combat highly destructive illegal fishing in its seafood sector.
In the 2015 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Thailand was listed on Tier 3 for the second year running, retaining lowest possible ranking alongside countries such as North Korea and Iran. In October, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on Thailand, highlighting concerns about the trafficking of workers and encouraging the Thai government to step up its efforts to put an end to slavery.
The European Commission, having warned Thailand in April this year for its failure to address Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing (issuing a so-called “yellow card”), sent a delegation to Bangkok on 21st October to examine progress on the issue. An update on this decision is due in the near term and could see a ban on Thai wild-caught seafood exports to the European Union.
Pressure is also growing as several global companies face class action lawsuits from consumers in the US over allegations that their products are tainted by slavery taking place aboard Thai fishing vessels.
In 2013, EJF’s investigative report Sold to the Sea uncovered cases of human trafficking, labour abuse and the routine use of violence and murder in the Thai seafood industry. By returning to Kantang, EJF challenges claims that slavery and violent abuse alongside illegal ‘pirate’ fishing in Thailand’s export-oriented seafood sector have been effectively addressed.
Despite the Royal Thai Government introducing a raft of new controls throughout this year, Thailand’s Seafood Slaves demonstrates how some Government flagship initiatives are failing to identify and assist victims of exploitation and abuse. EJF concludes that both public and private sector safeguards designed to prevent and combat trafficking, forced and slave labour, remain inadequate and calls on the international community to maintain strong pressure on Thailand until it can demonstrate an end to the human rights abuses and illegal and destructive fishing.

Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said:

What we observed with Boonlarp in Kantang is symptomatic of the problems we are seeing across Thailand. The Thai fishing industry continues to use trafficked, bonded, forced and slave labour to crew vessels which are often fishing illegally to maximise profits and minimise costs. Despite the recent arrests that have been reported by local media, violence, slavery and illegal fishing remain a systemic problem in Thailand’s vast fishing fleet.

“These companies are using trafficking, debt bondage, torture and even murder to produce a raw material which is entering a diverse and large number supply chains: from shrimp and pet food to poultry and fertiliser, some of which is destined for consumers in the EU and US.

Though some progress has been made to control illegal ‘pirate’ fishing in the region, the Government is still failing to deliver on its promises to clean up one of the most exploitative and unsustainable industries on the planet.

In a high-level meeting in Bangkok in September 2015, EJF gave the authorities evidence of violent abuse and murder, providing recommendations on how to eliminate the widespread use of human trafficking, stressing the need to deliver a coherent national programme of forensic, intelligence-led enforcement that targets the Thai nationals coordinating these abuses and benefitting most from them. We have also highlighted the need for the courts to support effective enforcement, ensuring due process of law and application of serious deterrent penalties to those found guilty.

At the same time, industry actors and market countries need to apply a zero tolerance approach to these violent abuses, making the steps they have taken to ensure their supply chains are free of slavery public. Consumers in Europe and the U.S. do not want to use products made by slaves or through the destruction of invaluable natural resources”.

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