Thai government vows not to send prisoners to fishing vessels


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
January 20, 2015

Thailand’s foreign ministry has confirmed in a statement that the Thai government will abandon a pilot program designed to put prisoners to work aboard Thai fishing vessels.

The decision followed the government receiving a letter from 45 different human rights groups, all protesting the program. The Thai fishing industry has come under fire for some time over allegations of human trafficking and other mistreatment of fishing boat workers. In the letter, the groups argued that these practices led to a shortage of volunteers to work the boats, and the government project would only address the labor shortage, not the underlying problem.

The government statement did not mention the letter, and denied reports that the program had already begun.

“After having sought comments from the private sector in the fishery industry, the mooted idea to let prisoners work on fishing vessels has not been and will not be implemented,” the government said in its statement, despite reports by the BBC that as many as 170 prisoners were already working on fishing boats under the program.

In the statement, the government also defended the program, saying it was intended to be a way for reformed criminals to work toward reintegration into society.

Despite the government’s denials, at least one human-rights group is claiming victory after learning of the decision. The International Labor Rights Forum’s website, under the headline “Victory at Sea!” supported the government’s decision.

“We’re glad to see the Thai government is making the right decision in this case,” said Judy Gearhart, the forum’s executive director. “It is time for the Thai government to recognize that its treatment of migrant workers lies at the heart of the problem and take real, meaningful steps to ensure all workers within its borders work in dignified, just conditions.”

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