Labor campaign groups call for embargo on Thai net-makers, citing unpaid prisoners

A group of campaigners is calling on the U.S. government to ensure U.S. companies do not import fishing nets made by Thai companies allegedly using forced prison labor.

A group of campaigners is calling on the U.S. government to ensure U.S. companies do not import fishing nets made by Thai companies allegedly using forced prison labor.

An expose written by Thai journalist Nanchanok Wongsamuth, published in December 2021, profiled prisoners who said they and hundreds of other inmates were forced to make nets for less than Thailand’s minimum wage, and were often not paid at all. The prisoners also alleged beatings and torture if they refused to work.

A petition sent to the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden alleges Khon Kaen Fishing Net Factory Co., Ltd. (KKF) and Dechapanich Fishing Net Factory Ltd. (Dechapanich) manufacture fishing nets under exploitative conditions in Thai prisons. Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and the Seafood Working Group, which is composed of 28 human rights, labor, and environmental organizations working to end forced labor in the global seafood industry, want the U.S. authorities to investigate and block the Thailand-headquartered companies from selling nets to U.S. corporations.

The campaign groups also called for customers of the Thai net-making firms to compensate the prisoners with back pay. The Seafood Working Group used international trade records to show customers of the named Thai companies include Trident Seafoods, as well as Calusa Trading Co., H. Christiansen Co. (Duluth Nets), and Gramter International USA, and Fitech International Inc.

The SWG is calling on Thai and U.S. seafood companies to commit further to responsible sourcing and transparency in their supply chains.

“This is just one of many examples of how multinational corporations scour the globe to source the lowest-priced products, but absolve themselves of responsibility for the human rights abuses their race to the bottom engenders,” GLJ-ILRF Executive Director Jennifer Rosenbaum said in a statement. “No worker – including prisoners – should be subjected to forced labor.”

The petition comes at a time as the United States is taking more action to combat labor abuses in the fishing industry. A recent finding by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that labor abuses took place on board the Da Wang, a Vanuatu-flagged tuna-fishing vessel owned by a Taiwanese company, compelled Taiwanese authorities to revoke the “authorization for investment in operation of foreign-flagged fishing vessels” granted to the boat’s owner.

In 2021, Thailand was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for what it described as ongoing forced labor of migrant workers, particularly in the fishing sector. The report also found Thai authorities did not do enough to put an end to forced migrant labor, especially in the fishing, seafood, and garment sectors.

"The [Thai] government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity," the U.S. report said.

Labor shortages have become an issue for the Thailand’s fishing and seafood-processing industries. In 2015, the Thailand Ministry of Labor proposed the introduction of a law to allow the recruitment of prisoners to work onboard Thai fishing vessels, and in 2021, the Thailand Ministry of Justice proposed building industrial estates on which companies could legally hire prisoners to work in seafood-processing factories. Neither proposal was approved by Thailand’s National Assembly.

Photo courtesy of KKF


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