The Issue Slavery on the high seas
Thailand's Seafood Slaves
Thailand is one of the world’s largest seafood exporters with a huge fishing fleet that needs thousands of fishermen. Decades of overfishing has decimated fish stocks in the region and today the Gulf of Thailand is one of the most barren parts of the ocean.
In order to continue meeting global demand with diminished catch in the territories closer to home, Thai fishing vessels are now forced to go further out into the ocean and stay out at sea for months, if not years. Many Thai workers no longer want to work on these boats, leaving the industry chronically short by thousands of fishermen each year.
Human traffickers have stepped in to fill this void with slave labor, selling vulnerable migrants from nearby Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos for a few hundred dollars each. Once forced onto vessels and sent out to sea, these men often go months, or even years, without setting foot on land. Former slaves report horrendous conditions, being drugged and forced to work up to 22-hour shifts with no days off, being kicked, whipped with toxic stingray tails and beaten. A recent report by the UNIAP found that 59% of trafficked migrants interviewed aboard Thai fishing vessels reported witnessing the murder of a fellow worker. As immigrants without proper documentation, many of these workers have no rights, no voice and no hope for change.
Ocean Degradation and Global Overfishing
The ocean is a primary source of food and income for almost half the earth’s population, and in 2017, the value of the global fish trade is expected to hit an all-time high of $150 billion dollars per year (according to the FAO). This natural resource is being pushed to the brink. Rapid industrialization and poor fisheries management has resulted in too many vessels using destructive and unsustainable fishing methods to catch far too many fish.
‘Pirate’ fishers are now pillaging the oceans, operating without licenses and fishing in protected areas. According to the UNFAO, this kind of illegal fishing accounts for an estimated 15-30% of the annual worldwide catch, diverting billions of dollars in revenue from regulated markets and supporting transnational crime syndicates around the world.
And as companies and vessel operators are pressured to continue supplying Western markets with cheap seafood, many have turned to slave labor – enforced by violence- to keep costs down…
Was your seafood caught with slave labor?
Products from slave-dependent boats have been tracked from Thailand to major grocery stores across the United States and Europe. They end up in the packaged shrimp, pet food and canned tuna that many Americans buy off the shelves. For years, retailers and major industry suppliers have been disconnected from the operations at sea and the details of their own supply chains. Some industry players have begun to take small steps to address this issue, but these efforts have been woefully insufficient relative to the problem at hand.
Today, with clear evidence of ongoing illegal fishing and modern day slavery ruining lives and devastating our ocean ecosystems, it is essential that we as consumers understand where our seafood comes from – and that industry actors take on more responsibility for their products. Stay informed and take action by signing up for Ghost Fleet newsletter.
See who is taking action
Companies can be a powerful force for good
From Humanity United, KnowTheChain is a resource for companies and investors to understand and address forced labor risks within their global supply chains. They provide tools to identify and share best practices as a way to inform companies’ and investors’ decision-making and enable companies to operate more transparent and responsible supply chains.
Help Patima rescue Thai and migrant workers
The Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN) is committed to protecting and improving the lives of migrant workers in Thailand. They strive to advocate for equality, both in the workplace and the community, and aim to assist migrants and their families integrate peacefully into Thai society.
Learn more about illegal fishing and seafood slavery
Seeing slavery in seafood supply chains (Science Advances 2018) Link
2016 Pulitzer Prize winning report: Seafood from Slaves (Associated Press 2015) Link
Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns (The Guardian 2014) Link
Series: The Outlaw Ocean (The New York Times 2016) Link
Why the West should care about Thailand’s new fight against fishing slavery (PRI GlobalPost 2017) Link
Video: Thailand’s Seafood Slaves: Human Trafficking, Slavery and Murder in Kantang’s Fishing Industry (Environmental Justice Foundation 2015) Link
Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry (2018) Link
Podcast: Confined to a Thai Fishing Boat, For Three Years (NPR, 2013) Link
Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (US State Department) Link
Human Rights in the Seafood Industry Resources (FishWise) Link
Making sense of Wild Seafood Supply Chains (FutureofFish) Link