ILO finds improvements in Thailand’s seafood sector

Published on
March 13, 2020

A new report released in March by the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) has found improvements in working conditions in Thailand’s fishing and seafood processing sectors. However, there remain problems with forced labor in the industry, the organization noted.

Despite the finding, a group of human rights-focused NGOs are calling on the U.S. government to downgrade Thailand in its annual report on human trafficking, according to Reuters.

In its new report, the ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project, which is funded by the European Union, compared a survey on 219 fishermen and 251 seafood processing workers it carried out last year with its "baseline" study, conducted in 2018. The new research looks into Thailand’s recruitment, contracts, pay, working hours, safety, and worker organizing.

The latest report found that recruitment through registered agents and brokers has been reduced, which helps lessen the burden of high fees on workers.

"Nearly three-quarters of workers surveyed in 2019 – both fishing and seafood processing – reported that they found work or were recruited via their family and friends," the report said.

Wages have been improved, too, the organization said. Monthly pay for fishermen in 2019 rose to an average THB 12,730 (USD 404, EUR 357), up 28 percent compared from 2017, while wages for workers in seafood processing plants surged to THB 10,640 (USD 338, EUR 299), 15 percent higher than 2017. Still, the ILO found that many reports of wage withholding, deception, and coercion still exist.

A shift away from pay based only on "a share of the catch" in fishing and piece-rate work in processing plants persists, the ILO discovered, with 85 percent fishermen and 26 percent of workers in processing factories being paid or promised a flat, monthly pay rate.

The report also found that 89 percent of seafood processing workers are paid via bank accounts and have control over their ATM cards, but two out of three fishermen surveyed said they still receive cash or do not have full control over their ATM cards.

Despite the improvements in working conditions, labor abuse persisted in Thai fishing and seafood processing sectors, the report said. Fourteen percent of fishermen and 7 percent of workers in seafood processing are estimated to have experienced forced labor.

“These figures represent potentially tens of thousands of workers in the Thai fishing and seafood sectors. These workers are overwhelmingly migrant men in fishing, and their numbers are greatest among the Cambodian fishers along Thailand’s eastern seaboard ports,” the report said.

The report attributed the figures to the lack of unions for most fishermen. Migrant workers are not permitted to form or lead unions, which ILO said violates the organization’s core labor standards.

“Despite the prohibition and a generalized hostility to unions among Thai employers, 47 per cent of the surveyed workers indicated interest in joining unions or other labor-support organizations,” the report said.

Since 2014, Thailand’s fishing and seafood processing sectors – which employ more than 350,000 workers – have been blamed for forced labor and other abuses. The government of Thailand then has implemented various reforms to enhance fisheries management and minimize unacceptable forms of work in the sectors.

Despite the report, the Thai Seafood Working Group (SWG), a coalition of nearly 60 labor, human rights, and environmental groups focused on halting the use of forced labor in the Thai seafood industry, called on the U.S. State Department to maintain Thailand's status as a "Tier 2" country in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. 

"Tier 2" indicates a country has "not fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and [deserves] special scrutiny," according to Reuters.

In response, Thailand Police Lieutenant General Jaruvat Vaisaya, who is in charge of the country's fight against human trafficking, said Thailand recorded significant progress over 2018.

“Almost no trafficking exists in the fishing sector and we have continuously arrested (people who have exploited women),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.“Trial proceedings have become shorter and the amount of compensation (for victims) has increased.”

Photo courtesy of TaraPatta/Shutterstock

Reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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