An investigative report published by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) titled “Slavery at Sea” has raised allegations of human trafficking and exploitation against the fisheries industry in Thailand, the third-largest exporter of seafood in the world.
“Migrant workers in the Thai fishing industry, many of them trafficked illegally, are suffering terrible abuses and all too often denied their basic human rights,” said Steve Trent, executive director of EJF, according to the International Business Times.
Many of the trafficked victims hail from neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Laos. Increasingly, more workers are ethnic minorities from Myanmar, lured by the promise of a well-paid job and better life.
One Burmese migrant, who went by the pseudonym, Myo Zaw Do, described in the report how he was tricked into being promised work in a Thai pineapple factory and sold to a fishing boat in March 2013.
“We were sold for $430 per person. I felt very depressed when I ended up on the boat. I felt I was in hell,” he told researchers.
For ten months until he was able to escape and find refuge in a temple he faced regular beatings. One left him partially deaf after his head was smashed against ice on the boat’s deck. On the few occasions in which the boat returned to port, Myo Zaw Do was unable to escape because boat operators would pay police officers bribes to allow them to keep the illegal workers.
Thailand’s trafficking problem lies in overfishing. In 1961 boats could pull in over 300 kilograms of fish an hour. Today that amount has decreased to 25. Falling profits have led to a demand for cheaper labor – a demand that’s often met with illegal labor trafficked over the border.
The Thai government stated that it would make “a serious effort” to protect workers in the fishing industry.
“Right now, we are aiming to reduce and eradicate human trafficking. For fisheries, all agencies have collectively come together in an effort to prevent this problem in a sustainable and long-term fashion,” Thai Labor Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary Boontharik Samiti told the Associated Press in a phone interview.
The writers of the report urged the United States, which imported 53 percent of Thailand’s shrimp catch in 2011, to impose sanctions on the Thai seafood industry.
“Our governments and the international seafood industry simply cannot continue to ignore this, they must demand immediate reform and action to stop these abuses or refuse Thai seafood that is produced by slaves,” said Steve Trent, the director of the EJF.