Thailand defends human trafficking crackdown in fishing sector
By Agence France-Presse
Thai police rejected criticism of efforts to root out human trafficking in the kingdom’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry Wednesday, following accusations that reforms had failed to check rampant labour abuses.
Thailand is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of seafood, supplying major markets across Europe, the US and Japan.
But rights groups say the lucrative industry is a hotbed of abuse, with fleets accused of rampant illegal fishing and reliance on trafficked workers from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.
Thailand’s junta, which took power in 2014, launched a major clean-up campaign after the European Union threatened to ban all Thai seafood products in 2015 unless illegal fishing and labour abuses were addressed.
But a report released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday said forced labour and other rights abuses remained “widespread” despite much-publicised government reforms.
It said reforms have focused on tackling illegal fishing but done little to curb worker exploitation, with ship inspections for labour abuses “largely a theatrical exercise for international consumption.”
Thai police hit back Wednesday, claiming a successful crackdown has led to the prosecution of some 100 trafficking suspects and the rescue of 160 victims since May 2015, when the EU issued its “yellow card” warning.
Authorities have also seized licences of 4,242 trawlers for violations including fishing in illegal waters and failing to install a new GPS monitoring system, according to police.
“After we got the yellow card we implemented strict, updated laws on the fishing industry,” said Jaruvat Vaisaya, commander of Thai police’s Law Enforcement Department.
Thailand is expecting an updated assessment from the EU in April, he added.
HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams urged the EU, US and other international buyers to urgently “increase pressure on Thailand to protect the rights, health and safety of fishers.” (AFP)