When we talk about labor abuse problems in the Thai shrimp industry, the focus is on what takes place in shrimp peeling sheds. But the nature of labor abuse in Thailand is more sweeping and touches on other industries that are related to the shrimp exporting sector.
Earlier this week, the Environmental Justice Foundation, a British NGO, released “Sold to the Sea: Human Trafficking in Thailand’s Fishing Industry.” The investigation leading to the report was produced with the support of Humanity United, the organization responsible for the Accenture-prepared study “Exploitative Labor Practices in the Global Shrimp Industry.”
The report is seventeen pages long. The Environmental Justice Foundation has also produced a twelve minute long video to accompany the release of the report. I would encourage you to watch the video.
For many shrimp fishermen, the problem of finding adequate labor to crew a vessel has been growing. In addition to escalating fuel prices, pulling together a crew is a constant challenge with no easy solution. As appears to be true in Thailand, there is not an abundance of Americans wanting to work on a shrimp boat. The shrimp industry is not unfamiliar with the issue.
But that is right about where the similarities end. One of the statistics that the video and the report emphasize is pulled from a 2009 survey conducted by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. In that survey, the UN found that “59 per cent of interviewed migrants trafficked aboard Thai fishing boats reported witnessing the murder of a fellow worker.” The Environmental Justice Foundation’s report is based on a March 2013 investigation that included interviews with trafficked migrant workers. Two of the six trafficked workers interviewed by the organization “reported witnessing the torture and murder of a fellow crewmember and the murder of at least five other individuals.” According to the report, “[o]ne former boat worker interviewed separately in March 2013 witnessed three murders and the victims’ bodies being thrown into the sea.” Excerpts of the interviews included in the report are the stuff of horror films.
We recognize that when the domestic industry distributes reports like those of the Environmental Justice Foundation, the response are cries of “Protectionism!” Even with a mountain of documented proof and numerous reports regarding human trafficking, outright murders on foreign fishing vessels, children being chained to tables to keep them working and passports being seized, etc., all of it can be ignored at the altar of free trade. In other words, what takes place overseas is none of our business. Comparative advantage of aquaculture! Shrimpers are horse and buggies in an age of hovercrafts.
It is a nice story. But I believe in only one God, and it is not named “the free market.” The Southern Shrimp Alliance cares about unfair advantages in trade because it puts our members out of business. But that is not the only reason. We also care about compassion for other human beings whether they are children or adults, from Burma or Thailand, and their individual right as a human being to be just that. A human being. A humane world does not enslave children and immigrants for profit. It would be wrong if it happened here and it is just as wrong when it happens somewhere else. The fact that American consumers do not see inhumane practices with their own eyes doesn’t mean that we are absolved of responsibility for our fellow travelers.
This is not about public relations. If you think the Environmental Justice Foundation’s report and video are too slick, read the ninety-two page report on the same subject published by the International Organization for Migration in 2011. This is about what we are willing to accept.
Watch the Environmental Justice Foundation’s video on slavery in the Thai fishing industry: http://vimeo.com/66893109
Read the Environmental Justice Foundation’s “Sold to the Sea: Human Trafficking in Thailand’s Fishing Industry”: http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/Sold_to_the_Sea_report_lo-res-version_0.pdf
Read the International Organization for Migration’s “Trafficking of Fishermen in Thailand”: http://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/activities/countries/docs/thailand/Trafficking-of-Fishermen-Thailand.pdf
Learn more about Humanity United: http://humanityunited.org/
Read “Exploitative Labor Practices in the Global Shrimp Industry” Prepared by Accenture for Humanity United: http://humanityunited.org/pdfs/Accenture_Shrimp_Report.pdf