An Open Letter from Rights Coalition forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
As the European Commission assesses whether Thailand has taken sufficient measures in the international fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU), we write to you to urge the Commission to maintain pressure on Thailand to build upon positive reforms that have recently been made to its fishing industry, ensure that they have longevity and address the structural problems that facilitate both IUU fishing and human rights abuses. The undersigned are part of a coalition of human rights, labour and environmental organizations that closely track human rights and labour conditions for fishers in the Thai seafood industry. We urge the European Union to extend the yellow card designation for at least another six-month period and ensure that Thailand implement a time-bound action plan that goes beyond legal reforms, focusing also on effective enforcement to ensure substantial, measurable progress toward legal, sustainable and ethical fisheries products and the protection of the rights of all workers in this industry.
The EU’s yellow card designation has already brought about significant legal reforms and changes in the ways that the Thai government monitors and seeks to manage marine resources and control fishing operations. But it is unclear whether effective enforcement of these new regulations will be achieved once the EU lifts immediate pressure. Thailand is somewhat infamous for producing documents and plans that, for various reasons, have little real-world impact on the problems they seek to address. Since 1963, with the first National Economic and Social Development Plan, Thailand has acknowledged depletion of fish stocks as a serious issue in need of comprehensive action to curb overfishing, but such action was only introduced in 2015. Similarly, Thailand has had national action plans in place to combat human trafficking since at least 2004, but labor trafficking on fishing vessels has continued unabated. We strongly urge and encourage the Commission to insist on demonstrated results in curbing illegal fishing practices and, importantly, combating human trafficking, bonded and forced labour across the entire seafood industry, before determining Thailand has made sufficient progress.
We commend the EU’s statement urging the Thai government to address human rights issues as well as IUU fishing practices in the wake of the most recent report from the Associated Press about forced labour among migrant workers toiling in factories in Thailand’s seafood export industry. The linkages between illegal fishing and forced labour are increasingly apparent. As fish stocks continue to be overfished, fishing vessels travel further and stay out longer at sea, with an associated increase in cost. In order to remain profitable, workers at sea are required to work longer hours and fish in remote areas with fewer visits to shore, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, including forced labour. Thailand should be pressured to investigate and prosecute unscrupulous fleet owners and captains who are willing to break laws to make unsustainable practices seem profitable. Evidence suggests, and the Thai government recognizes, that the Thai fishing fleet has massive over-capacity and the depletion of fish stocks in Thai territorial waters due to over-fishing has led to a corresponding, on-going decline in catch per unit effort over a considerable period of time, which, in turn, has made some vessels operating in the Thai fleet simply unprofitable without the use of cheap, precarious labour.