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Abuse continues on Thai fishing boats
Published in Bikya Masr on 02 - 09 - 2013

The International Labor Organization (ILO) on Monday warned of "serious abuses" in the Thai fishing industry — a major global supplier — such as forced labor and violence.
About 17 percent of the mainly undocumented Myanmar and Cambodian fishermen surveyed by the ILO were forced to work under threat of financial penalty, violence or denunciation to the authorities, the UN agency said.
Thailand — the world's third largest fish exporter by value, with sales worth around $7 billion a year — is under international pressure to respond to reports of fishermen forced to work as virtual slaves under brutal conditions.
"This study does find serious abuses within the sector. The vast majority of workers were in irregular status and thus more vulnerable to exploitation," said ILO senior program officer Max Tunon.
While 10 percent of respondents reported being severely beaten on board boats, more than a quarter said they worked or were on call between 17 and 24 hours a day.
The average wage was 6,483 baht ($200) a month among the sample of 596 people, while only one of the migrant fishermen had a work permit. The survey found seven children under 15 years old, and 26 teenagers aged 15-17.
Conditions for fishermen on long-haul vessels were worse than for those who regularly returned to shore, the survey found, with a quarter reporting having been deceived or coerced into working at sea.
Tunon said the study focused on those in short-haul boats, with those trapped at sea "in the worst conditions" not necessarily included.
"It would be expected that if we interviewed just people at sea for a long period of time the picture would look worse," he said.
The report said the fishing industry as a whole — which includes lucrative fish and shrimp farming and packaging sectors — accounts for around 1.2 percent of Thailand's economy.
But declining fish stocks have pushed boats farther out to sea in search of catch, increasing their fuel costs.
"With pressures on seafood suppliers to reduce costs by every means available, a race to the bottom on labour costs has been created for the Thai seafood industry," the report said.
"When coupled with the increased vulnerability of undocumented migrant workers to forced labor, an enabling environment for such abuses to become systematic now exists."
The ILO said an estimated 50,000 shortfall in the number of fishermen required by the industry was "both a cause and an effect of the abusive labor practices" in the sector.
It said complications in the registration process hampered access to work permits, while there was "inadequate access to justice" for migrant fishermen, but noted that Thailand had introduced a number of new initiatives to try to coordinate its response to abuses in the sector.
Both the European Union and United States, which are major markets for Thai seafood products, have vowed to jointly combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Thailand has languished towards the bottom of the annual US trafficking in person's report and must improve its efforts on combating forced labor or face relegation next year — which could trigger cuts in non-humanitarian and non-trade American aid.
International firms are also becoming more wary of association with suppliers who may use forced labor and trafficking, the ILO said.
It cited a petition of almost 100,000 signatures demanding that Walmart adopt higher standards after the US retail giant was linked to a Thai seafood firm at the center of accusations of "abusive labor practices".

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