International seafood buyers urge Thailand to stand strong on fisheries reforms

Several retailers and buyers sourcing seafood from Thailand have called on the Southeast Asian nation to preserve major regulations in the fisheries sector amidst fears that recently-made reforms may be rolled back.

In an open letter posted on the website of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) last week, the buyers said they “urge the Royal Thai government to continue the path of reform and work constructively with national actors to achieve a transition towards a legal, ethical and sustainable fishing sector.”

The signatories included ETI, its corporate members including Aldi South, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose; German companies Aldi North, Lidl International, REWE, and EDEKE; U.S. companies Cargill, Kroger, Albertsons Companies, and Whole Foods; as well as the UK’s Seafood Ethics Action Alliance (SEA Alliance), which represents companies engaged in multi-billion-dollar global seafood exports from Thailand.

The Thai government has made progress in protecting the marine environment and workers from exploitation, the letter said. It added that the buyers will continue to monitor and support collaboration between the government, seafood suppliers, and civil society organizations to ensure that the crucial reforms continue to be implemented effectively.

“We understand that new reforms are challenging but nevertheless we stand with the Thai government in supporting the details of this transition and stand ready to assist in achieving successful outcomes for key stakeholders in the fishing sector,” the letter said.

Oxfam America Senior Advisor Art Prapha said the letter is part of an effort to protect an estimated 650,000 workers, including large numbers of migrant laborers, from exploitation and abuse.

ETI and 23 other organizations, all members of the Seafood Working Group, had released a joint statement in December last year following the U.S. government's decision to suspend trade preferences to Thailand. The statement called on the Thai government to take actions to get the benefits reinstated, including reforming labor legislation, ending the legal and judicial harassment of labor rights defenders and collaborating with worker organizations to end labor exploitation.  

Due to progress made by the Thai government in taking on labor issues and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, in January 2019, the European Commission removed its yellow card from Thailand. In the past few years, Thailand has undertaken a major upgrade of its fisheries governance in order to address the E.U.’s concerns.

But its tough measures resulted in protests from fishermen affected. About 8,000 Thai fishing trawler operators and crew from 22 coastal provinces rallied outside the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives on 17 December to demand the government adopt their 11-point request submitted earlier to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Their demands included calling on the government to ease fishing restrictions, address labor shortages, and assist with the sector’s mounting debt. The fishermen also requested the government to spend THB 10 billion (USD 330.3 million, EUR 298 million) to buy fishing boats from owners whose business had collapsed because of the new fishing laws.

The Thai government has since eased a number of anti-IUU regulations following the protests, and has offered compensation to fishermen whose boats were banned from fishing because they did not meet the government's minimum requirements under its new anti-IUU restrictions.

Photo courtesy of Isuaneye/Shutterstock


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