Thailand’s seafood slaves

Date: August 19, 2016

Source: Virgin Unite
Author: Steve Trent

For over 15 years the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has worked to expose and resolve environmental destruction and associated human rights abuses.

Throughout this time, we have focused on working in difficult and dangerous countries like Uzbekistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia and we have targeted the worst abuses and the most powerful people behind them. We were used to trouble, but still this had not prepared us for the scope and the magnitude of abuse and human rights violations in the Thai seafood industry.  

The Thai seafood sector is big business. The country is the world’s third largest exporter of seafood, in 2013 sending around $7 billion worth of fish to overseas markets like the European Union and the US. Thai seafood has made some people very, very rich. But it has also been behind the cause of horrifying human misery and the decimation of marine life in the Gulf of Thailand, Andaman Sea and beyond. How, and why, has this happened?

The Thai seafood industry has grown continuously since the 1960s; however management of the fishing vessels and of the entire sector has been appalling. A lack of controls, together with extensive corruption across the sector, resulted in massive over-fishing of Thai marine territories (and further afield), such that most of the high-value commercial species, and much of the astonishing wildlife that once populated these waters, has been wiped out.

By 2015, the volume of fish Thai vessels were able to catch was just 14 per cent of that from the late 1960s, despite the more efficient fishing gear and greater fishing effort – they had fished out their waters.

This has created powerful economic incentives for wrong-doing among the fishing companies that now struggle to make a legal profit in Thailand’s degraded waters. And it is this downward economic spiral of mismanagement and over-fishing that, along with a number of other important economic, social, cultural and political factors, has driven the massive use of trafficked workers in the sector.

While exhausted fish stocks pushed fishing vessels to stay out at sea longer, travel further afield, and fish harder for a diminishing catch, operators increasingly turned to trafficked workers, many of whom have been forced to work in brutal conditions as bonded or slave labour, to cut costs and keep profits.

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