Thailand set to ratify key ILO conventions on labor in seafood

Published on
November 30, 2018

Thailand is set to ratify International Labor Organization Convention No. 188, which would make it the first country in Asia to ratify and support the effort to improve working conditions for millions in the fishing sector. 

Convention No. 188 sets binding requirements to address the main labor issues that the fishing sector faces, namely occupational safety and health, medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, work agreements, and social security protection at the same level as workers in other industries. If Thailand moves forward with the ratification on schedule, it will be in place by January. 

The move has been applauded by international labor rights organizations like the Environmental Justice Foundation, which has been advising the Thai government for several years on labor issues. 

“The National Legislative Assembly has today taken a bold, progressive and important step towards the protection of workers in the seafood sector from violence and labor abuses,” EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said. “This action is to be applauded, it shows both regional and global leadership by the Royal Thai Government, becoming the first Asian nation to ratify the convention.”

Thailand has seen a dramatic turnaround in labor issues since the 2014 reports in the Guardian and Associated Press came detailed extensive labor abuses in the country. In July, Thailand was upgraded by the U.S. Department of State in its human trafficking report. 

The International Labor Rights Forum has issued a statement on the ratification of Convention No. 188, encouraging the Thai government to ensure its effective implementation. The statement was undersigned by several other labor-rights advocacy organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights and Development Foundation, and several others. 

“Ratifying and implementing the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188) would ensure vulnerable fishing workers are sufficiently protected while they work in one of the most dangerous working environments in the world,” the ILRF wrote. “We respectfully urge the Royal Thai Government and the Ministry of Labor to pursue a robust and ambitious approach to ensure ratification of C188 before the end of 2018.”

While the organizations are applauding the Thai government’s move towards ratification, they also condemned the National Fisheries Association of Thailand’s efforts to derail the process. 

“Industry representatives such as the National Fisheries Association of Thailand (NFAT) have been using aggressive and disruptive tactics to derail legislative reforms in a bid to avoid any regulation to protect workers across the fishing industry. NFAT has spread discord, disseminated misinformation and generally disrupted efforts toward much-needed reforms,” wrote the EJF. “NFAT has also reneged on its previous promises to cooperate with the government to eliminate human and labor rights abuses in the fishing industry.”

The Thai courts have also sided against labor rights defenders in some cases. As recently as March, Labor Rights Activist Andy Hall was ordered to pay damages amounting to THB 10,000,000 (USD 304,149, EUR 267,383) for defamation after a report on a company’s labor rights abuses. However, Hall was cleared of criminal charges just a few days later. 

Nevertheless, the ratification of Convention No. 188 is seen as a positive step by most labor rights organizations. 

“The ratification of C188 would allow the Royal Thai Government to send a credible and powerful message to the international community that Thailand is firmly committed to eliminating human trafficking, forced labour and other forms of exploitation from its fishing industry,” the ILRF said. “Adopting C188 would also give seafood buyers and retailers around the world greater confidence that Thai seafood is ethically sourced.”

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