Are your prawns linked to people trafficking?

Western consumers could be eating fish arriving as a result of modern day slavery in south east Asia, a shocking new report and film claim.

Thailand’s fishing industry is being marred by human rights abuses connected to human trafficking of migrant workers, research by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation has found. Many are forced to toil onboard fishing boats for months at a time in ‘arduous, often violent’ conditions.

In the report, Sold To The Sea, the campaigners highlight links between such practices and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Migrant workers interviewed state that their boats regularly operate illegally and flee patrol boats in foreign waters.

‘Modern day slavery’

‘This is a symptom of a wider lack of regulation and transparency in the Thai fishing industry, with ineffective enforcement by Navy patrols and little information on the activities and locations of fishing vessels,’ says the report.

Steve Trent, from the group, said: ‘EJF has uncovered a huge number of pirate fishing operators and criminal businesses actively using forced and trafficked workers on their boats as a way to maximise their profits. The victims of this, often among the most vulnerable and desperate, are subject to horrific abuse, denied basic freedoms, forced to work punishing hours, savagely beaten and even murdered. There are no excuses for this modern day slavery and governments and business must come together to stamp it out.’

He continued: ‘It is absolutely clear that the Thai authorities have long known about the trafficking on to fishing vessels (and into shrimp factories) and that the enforcement agencies supposed to prevent this and protect victims either turn a blind eye, or have even colluded with the traffickers and businesses that benefit.’

The findings follow an investigation by The Ecologist which last year found worker abuses on board boats supplying so-called ‘trash fish’ for use in the manufacture of fish feed given to farmed prawns – or shrimp – that are cultivated in Thailand before being exported and consumed by diners across the world.

As many as 250,000 Burmese migrants work within the Thai fishing industry. Reporters found evidence that some of those working onboard fishing vessels operating in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea suffer brutal exploitation during long periods at sea, enduring cramped – and potentially dangerous – working and living conditions.

Burmese migrants interviewed by The Ecologist for the film Grinding Nemo said they had suffered from malnutrition and been beaten if they made mistakes whilst sorting fish. One said he had witnessed a fellow crew member being executed whilst at sea: ‘The captain took his gun and shot him until he fell off the boat. He fell in the gap between the two boats. He didn’t die right away, he tried to come up, but the captain just gave him another shot until he sank away… I’ve seen this happen twice.

Useful links: 

Environmental Justice Foundation

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