A group of 28 NGOs have called on the Thai government to not yield to attempts to derail the ratification of the international Work in Fishing Convention, which protects fishers from human rights abuses.
Fishers are especially vulnerable to human trafficking as well as forced, bonded and slave labor, operating as they do in isolated and hazardous conditions, say the organizations. Ratifying the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention would prevent workers from being exploited by unscrupulous employers who engage in forced labor and debt bondage, pay below minimum wage and refuse to ensure overtime is voluntary and compensated – all issues which have plagued the Thai fishing industry.
The Thai government has already made strong moves towards ratifying the convention, holding meetings and public hearings on the topic, but the organizations claim there is pressure from the National Fishing Association of Thailand (NFAT) to drop it. The NGOs say that NFAT’s continuing demand for exemptions to child labor laws which prevent anyone under 18 from working in the fishing industry demonstrate disregard for human rights.
As well as providing crucial protection for fishers on board Thai vessels, ratifying the convention could also solve the labor shortage in the Thai fishing industry, the NGOs say. Currently, many countries which might provide a source of migrant fishers are reluctant to enter formal agreements with Thailand over the flow of workers because of Thailand’s reputation for serious and pervasive labor rights abuses. Together with the adoption of other key ILO measures such as those guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining, ratifying the Work in Fisheries convention would show that Thailand is committed to treating its workforce well, says the NGOs.
These measures would also send a credible and powerful message to the international community, including seafood buyers, that Thailand is firmly committed to eliminating human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of exploitation from its fishing industry.
In Thailand, there are an estimated 4.5 million migrant workers with over 222,000 migrant workers in the seafood sector and approximately 71,000 migrant workers on board fishing vessels. Thailand’s seafood exports are valued at over $5.8 billion annually, making it the third largest seafood exporter in the world.
However, the Thai fishing industry has been responsible for systematic illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices, and pervasive, horrific human rights abuses. Over the last five years, both the U.S. State Department and the European Commission have issued formal warnings to Thailand about its fishing industry. The U.S. sanction came in the form of a downgrade to Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons Report, while the European Commission issued a ‘yellow card’ warning to Thailand on combating IUU fishing that could lead to a ban on importing Thai seafood products into the European Union.
The signatories to the statement include:
Business and Human Rights Resource Center
Environmental Justice Foundation
Human Rights and Development Foundation
Humanity United Action
International Labor Rights Forum
Focus on the Global South
Foundation for Education and Development
Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Mekong Migration Network
Migrant Working Group
Migrant Workers Rights Network
Raks Thai Foundation
Slave Free Seas
Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre
Stop The Traffik Coalition
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania