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HRW report reveals massive rights abuses in Thailand fishing industry

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] released a 134-page report [text] and a 15-minute video on Tuesday at the EU Parliament [official website] documenting widespread rights abuses and forced labor conditions in Thailand's fishing fleets.

Titled "Hidden Chains: Forced Labor and Rights Abuses in Thailand's Fishing Industry," the report details the trafficking of migrant fishers from neighboring countries in Southeast Asia for fishing work in Thailand under conditions where the workers are prevented from changing employers, not paid on time or paid below the minimum wage. According to the report, migrant workers do not receive Thailand's labor law protections and do not have the right to form a labor union.

However, the report is not limited to coverage of just migrant workers, but also documents rights abuses concerning Thailand citizens working in the fishing industry. The report reveals that Thailand's inspection frameworks "fail to adequately or systematically address" multiple indicators of forced labor conditions such as deception regarding key terms of employment, retention of identity documents, wage withholding, recruitment linked to debt, excessive work hours and obstruction of workers’ freedom to change employers. Indeed, the report finds that 50,000 inspections of fishers, recently undertaken by the government, "implausibly did not find a single instance where laws on conditions and hours of work, wages, treatment on board, and other issues in the Labour Protection Act of 1998, the 2014 Ministerial Regulation, and attendant regulations had been violated."

Citing the failure of Thailand's 2017 amendments to its anti-trafficking laws to provide protection to victims of forced labor who have not been trafficked, the report recommends a comprehensive national legislation "to prohibit all forms of forced labor, giving due consideration to the various means and elements of this crime." The report adds that Thailand needs a "stand-alone law" which recognizes that "forced labor is a broader concept than trafficking in persons and that the means by which people are put into forced labor are more numerous than specified in existing Thai law."

Among other things, the report also recommends the extensive revision of inspection regimens and interview frameworks that protects workers who speak out, and a higher level of engagement and cooperation between the government and nongovernmental organizations to inform fishers of their labor rights and to provide remedies where abuses occur.

The report concluded with an appeal [press release] to international producers, retailers and consumers to abstain from purchasing Thai food products that have entered their markets through the use of forced labor:

The Thai government's lack of commitment means that regulations and programs to prevent forced labor in the fishing industry are failing ... No one should be fooled by regulations that look good on paper but are not properly enforced ... The EU and US urgently need to increase pressure on Thailand to protect the rights, health, and safety of fishers.

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