Some of the world’s largest food retailers have been shown to be unwittingly involved in Thailand’s illegal fishing industry, which relies on large numbers of trafficked and slave labour.
Businesses such as Walmart, Carrefour, Costco, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi have been implicated in an investigation as published in British newspaper The Guardian as dealing with Thai fishing businesses reliant on trafficked labour.
Project Issara has released a report detailing reports of barbarity, rape, murder and widespread exploitation perpetrated against migrant workers in many of Thailand’s export industries.
Workers are reportedly brought to Thailand on the promise of well-paying work in factories before they are forced onto Thai fishing vessels by brokers claiming they owe fees for transport, recruitment and documentation or other services, which often leads to debt bondage of many fisherman.
Human Rights Watch, in a 2011 report into the trafficking of fishermen to Thailand, found that use of trafficked workers in Thailand’s fishing industry was widespread and had increased, on trend, since Typhoon Gay in 1989 which saw a mass exodus of Thai nationals from the domestic fishing industry.
Into their place came foreign nationals, largely trafficked from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, who work not only in the fishing industry but also in the processing, handling and canning industries.
Workers are often paid either nothing or very little (THB5,000 or $155) with many attempting to escape facing hostile receptions from local police who will deport them.
Charoen Pokphand Foods (CP Foods), named in The Guardian’s report, accounts for almost 10 percent of Thailand’s 500,000 tonnes-a-year export of shrimp, feeding them with fishmeal sourced in part from businesses known to be active in Thailand’s illegal fishing industry.
CP Foods, in a statement published in The Guardian, said it believed the right thing was to use its commercial weight to try to influence the Thai government to act rather than walk away from the Thai fishing industry, although it is putting in place plans to use alternative proteins in its feed so that it can eliminate Thai fishmeal by 2021 if necessary.
While it recognises that workers on boats are exploited, it added that the Thai Department of Fisheries continues to deny that unregistered boats are a problem.