Thai ambassador: Seafood industry reforms 'irreversible'
A large delegation of Thai officials, including Thai Ambassador to the United States Pisan Manawapat, delivered an update on reforms underway in the Thai seafood supply chain at Seafood Expo North America on Monday, 7 March.
In an exclusive interview with SeafoodSource, Manawapat described the Thai government’s efforts to enact comprehensive fisheries reform, including upping law enforcement, curbing human rights abuses and slavery and investing in new technology for monitoring and surveillance of the Thai fishing fleet and the traceability of Thai seafood products.
“We recognize we have serious problems, and they have been largely reported by NGOs and media – serious journalists have done a good job covering them and we find the situation unacceptable,” Manawapat said. “Laws have been passed and toughened, penalties have been raised, imprisonment terms have been raised, enforcement has been beefed up, the shrimp sheds that were on the news involving labor abuse have been shut down. Victims have been treated differently than in the past, innocent victims that had to be looked after and rehabilitated.”
Manawapat said over the weekend, he had a lengthy conversation with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss the government’s continuing prioritization of improving the seafood industry.
“I spent five hours talking with the prime minister, and it is clear he is firmly committed and, because of that, his cabinet and colleagues are firmly committed to this cause,” Manawapat said.
Before the formal opening of SENA, on Saturday, 5 March, the entire Thai delegation met with representatives from companies with investments in the Thai seafood sector to update them and ask for their continued commitment to improving the industry.
“The private sector has joined us and we are holding Thai companies accountable to their pledge that their supply chain will be free of labor abuse and trafficking and we are asking the American retailers, media, NGOs and educated customers to hold them accountable to that pledge,” Manawapat said.
One of the biggest difficulties the government has faced so far is the prosecution of human rights trafficking crimes, Manawapat said. The government is in the process of prosecuting 7 to 8 “major” cases of human trafficking, he said.
“The hardest challenge we have found is to bring those criminals involved in human trafficking to jail,” he said. “We have arrested a 3-star general, four colonels, local mafia, and many criminals are behind bars, charged with trafficking Rohingyas. But it is a difficult process. This will take not months, but years to bring them to justice.”
The Thai government is also grappling with the difficulty of caring for thousands of former workers in the seafood industry displaced by the recent reforms.
“When we clean our house, there are consequences – social, economic, even security consequences,” Manawapat said. “We are registering migrant workers, but when you grant citizenship to stateless people like the Rohingya so their rights are protected - we face enormous challenges in doing so.”
Manawapat said he welcomed continued pressure from the international community, and said it had pushed Thailand to enact “irreversible” reforms.
“This is not about exports. This is not about market share. It is about human dignity,” Manawapat said.