Fri, Mar 27, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US calls on Thailand to end slavery

‘HORRIBLE PRACTICES’:The US-based National Fisheries Institute said a report by The Associated Press about labor abuses is particularly painful for the seafood community


The US government and major business leaders are renewing their call on the Thai government to crack down on slavery in its fishing fleets and to punish people who force migrant workers to catch seafood that can end up in the US.

The US Department of State, the US seafood and retail industries and a member of the US Congress reacted swiftly on Wednesday to an Associated Press (AP) investigation published this week that found slave-caught fish clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the US.

The AP reported that hundreds of men were trapped on the Indonesian island village of Benjina and tracked seafood they caught to Thai exporters who sell it to the US.

“It has become increasingly clear that workers in the fishing industry, many of whom are migrants, are exploited at multiple points along the supply chain, from harvesting to processing,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Wednesday.

The State Department blacklisted Thailand last year for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking.

Psaki did not say whether current trade talks with Thailand include labor rights.

The National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Fisheries Institute, in a letter to the ambassadors of Thailand and Indonesia, also demanded to know what will be done to liberate slaves described in AP’s coverage and bring their masters to justice.

The industry leaders said that in the past they have asked the Thai government to address forced labor, but have lacked specific allegations.

“The AP article changes this dynamic,” they wrote.

The Thai government says it is cleaning up the problem and has laid out a plan to address labor abuse, including new laws that mandate wages, sick leave and shifts of no more than 14 hours.

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that at least 1.6 million foreign migrant workers, most of them employed in the fishing industry, are now registered with the government and have the same labor protections as Thai workers.

It also said the industry will be more closely monitored, with surveillance systems scheduled to be installed on more than 7,700 fishing vessels by June.

The ministry said that Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, “has designated this issue as a top national priority and directed all relevant agencies to integrate their work in order to expedite anti-trafficking efforts.”

However, on Wednesday, Prayuth asked the media not to report on human trafficking without considering how the news would affect the country’s seafood industry and reputation abroad.

Thailand’s biggest seafood company, Thai Union Frozen Products, on Wednesday announced that it immediately cut ties with a supplier identified in the AP report after determining that the supplier might be involved with forced labor and other abuses. Thai Union did not name the supplier.

In the US, many companies that sell seafood from Thailand have said they are already taking steps to prevent labor abuse in their supply chains.

Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, which represents about 75 percent of US seafood sellers, said AP’s reports of labor abuses “have been particularly painful for the seafood community.”

He added that his members now plan to follow up, using details from the report.

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