THAILAND – A new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has documented accounts of human trafficking, confiscation of identification documents, withholding of pay, forced detention and bonded labour in the Thai shrimp industry.
The Hidden Cost: Human Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Shrimp Industry follows EJF’s Sold to the Sea report, published in May this year, which revealed evidence of human trafficking, labour abuse and the routine use of violence, including murder, in the Thai fishing industry.
The new report exposes the reliance of Thailand’s shrimp industry on migrant workers, many of whom are trafficked and face arduous journeys, and even armed robbery, before enduring abusive conditions in shrimp processing factories.
During investigations carried out in October 2012 and March 2013, EJF gathered evidence of perilous human trafficking into Thailand, as well as serious labour and human rights violations in shrimp facilities.
EJF recorded four testimonies from migrants trafficked by brokers from Myanmar to Thailand to work in the shrimp industry, which included reports of gruelling journeys on foot, cramped conditions in vehicles, armed robbery, rape and the detention of property including mobile phones.
EJF interviewed five former workers at a pre-processing factory owned by a Captain in the Royal Thai Police. They had all been trafficked into debt bondage and had their identification documents confiscated, their movements restricted and were forced to work up to 16 hour shifts. One of the interviewees was just 10 years old at the time and recalled 8 or 9 children working in the factory, peeling shrimp and extracting excrement until 8pm every day.
EJF recorded the first-hand accounts of a further 12 current and former migrant peeling shed workers, all from Myanmar. Eleven of the workers had entered Thailand illegally with the help of a broker and had their passports removed by their employers. One family of three reported being physically abused and having their pay withheld.
The Hidden Cost examines how the global demand for cheap shrimp is fuelling the exploitative Thai
shrimp sector, which has grown rapidly and is capable of delivering standardised, high-volume orders to markets around the world. But inadequate regulation by Thai authorities, unscrupulous brokers, corrupt officials and a lack of supply chain transparency have allowed uncontrolled pre-processing facilities to operate beyond scrutiny, at a hidden cost to those working in the industry.
The report finds that the status of migrant workers in Thailand remains precarious, following EJF’s previous Sold to the Sea report. Migrant workers choosing to enter Thailand to work in the shrimp industry are susceptible to dangerous human trafficking, and systemic exploitation and abuse. Furthermore they are prevented from leaving by the confiscation of their papers and physical restrictions.
Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said: “EJF previously uncovered the use of trafficked, threatened and abused workers on Thai fishing vessels to supply fish to the shrimp industry. Our new report reveals that the shrimp supply chain itself also is also hiding severe systemic labour abuses.
“The Thai authorities are aware of human trafficking into the shrimp industry and that enforcement agencies are failing to protect vulnerable workers. Worse, we believe that our research and that of others now clearly shows that the exploitation of labour in this way is a central part of an economic model that is driving cheap cash exports to Western markets. We can clearly say that shrimp prepared by workers who have been trafficked, held in bonded labour and subject to abusive working conditions, is right now entering our markets and arriving on our plates.
“EJF is advocating for the Thai Government, the international community and retailers to work together to stop these abuses. But, we are also clear that without immediate proof of real action and real results the lucrative European and Western markets should be closed to Thai shrimp. There are no excuses for the failure of Thai authorities and companies to act and they must be called to account. In the 21st century food produced by slavery, forced, bonded and trafficked labour should not be on our plates,” he concluded.