Thai fishing boats. Photo by Randy Adams under Creative Commons Licence.
Unions join condemnations of Thai prison labour plans
UPDATE 20/1/15: the campaign has been successful! See more details.
The TUC has joined a coalition of 43 union and human rights organisations condemning the regime in Thailand for a planned pilot project recruiting prisoners to fill labour shortages in the country’s fishing industry (which supplies multinational food companies among others.)
The Thai fishing industry has a terrible track record of workers’ rights violations, including forced labour, physical violence, illegally low wages and human trafficking. The prison labour plan could have negative economic and political consequences for Thailand. Western retailers and buyers are already increasingly wary about Thai seafood because of abuses in the industry, and the scrutiny the industry is under would intensify if buyers had to deal with new concerns regarding prison labour.
The organisations have sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking him to end the pilot project. The letter notes that the plan could be considered evidence by the US State Department that the Thai government is unable, or unwilling, to address the risk of human trafficking in its fishing fleets. Thailand was downgraded to the lowest rank, Tier 3, in the United States’ 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, with the fishing industry cited as a major area of concern.
Other signatories include the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and the national centres in Australia and the USA. And the TUC has also sent the letter to the Thai Embassy in London and to the Foreign Office.
Judy Gearhart, executive director of the US-based International Labor Rights Forum said:
“Thailand cannot run from the trafficking problem in its fishing fleet. And sending prisoners to sea will not address the systematic, pervasive labor problems in Thailand’s fishing industry. 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.”
The main reason for labour shortages on fishing boats is existing workers’ rights violations, and the prison project would do nothing to end those abuses. Migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia currently make up the majority of the workforce on Thai fishing vessels with Thai prisoners who are equally vulnerable to abuses. Migrant fishers are almost entirely undocumented and without legal status, making them afraid to report rights violations they suffer on fishing boats to Thai authorities.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch says
“Thailand has repeatedly said that it’s committed to end forced labor and human trafficking, but this pilot project heads in precisely the opposite direction and will make things worse. This prisoners on fishing boats project should be immediately scrapped.”