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Combatting Forced Labour in the Thai Fishing and Seafood Industry

In 2019, Thailand adopted new laws to address forced labour in the fishing sector. Workers, employers and government representatives share insight on the recent progress and remaining challenges.

Date issued: 08 October 2019 |
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In the past, serious labour abuses in the Thai fishing industry have been ignored or missed. Wage withholding and confiscation of passports in fishing, for example, indicate possible forced labour situations, but these have not been prosecuted aggressively in the past.

Thailand’s 2018 ratification of the Protocol 2014 of the Forced Labour Convention (P29) marked an important shift. Thailand’s ratification – the first country in Asia to do so – is a powerful signal to workers, employers, key trading partners, and neighbouring countries, that Thailand is part of the global movement and intends to confront the problem of forced labour.

ILO legal experts and the EU-funded Ship to Shore Rights Project team provided analysis and extensive technical support to the Thai government, employers and workers as they debated the right way to fill the gaps in Thai law about forced labour and to ratify the Convention.

These changes were a product of tripartite debate in which stakeholders have weighed in on the proposed ratification and changes to Thai law. The ILO’s partners generally acknowledge that – even when the decisions do not go their way – policy is smarter, more effective and more comprehensive when it is the outcome of an inclusive, multi-stakeholder process and when the right workers’ organizations and employers are part of the debate.

“Whether they are Thai or migrant fishers, if their wages are being withheld from them, and their freedom to change jobs restricted, this is regarded as forced labour,” says Petcharat Sinuay, Director-General, Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour.

The new 2019 forced labour amendments to the Thai Anti-Trafficking Act can go a long way to make clear for employers, workers labour inspectors, prosecutors, and judges how urgent the problem is, how to identify it, and how to end it. However, challenges remain, especially in making changes to employer practices, and to Thai government rules and effective enforcement of the new rules.

“We see that the laws on fishing are more consistent, because [the government] know the problems and are trying to improve them,” says Suradech Ninubon, President of Songkhla Fisheries Association.

The film was made in 2019 and includes leaders from the Thai Ministry of Labour, Command Centre for Combatting Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), EU, ILO, and employer’s (vessel owners and seafood processors) and worker’s organizations (International Transport Workers’ Federation/Fishers’ Rights Network).

For more information please contact:

Mr Vasu Thirasak
National Project Coordinator