Forced labour blights Thailand’s fishing industry: HRW

Rights abuses still rampant in profitable sector despite government pledge to implement reforms, Human Rights Watch says.

Forced labour is among several abuses still taking place in the fishing industry in Thailand despite government promises for reform, according to a new report by a rights group.

Human Rights Watch says the Thai government has been slow to implement its pledge to address human trafficking and forced labour in the profitable industry, which supplies fish markets around the world.

“Despite several years of highly publicised efforts to address problems in the Thai fishing industry, the Thai government has not taken the steps necessary to end forced labour and other serious abuses on fishing boats,” HRW said in its report, which was released on Tuesday.

Four years ago, the appalling conditions faced by migrant workers in the Thai fishing industry made international headlines.

The industry depends on low-skilled, mgirant workers from neighbouring countries.

Many are trafficked across the border and sold onto fishing boats, despite promises of other jobs.

Violence and intimidation

The workers say they have been forced to work through violence or intimidation, and many say they have trouble getting paid.

“The bottom line is many fishermen still work long hours with little pay, face abuses from [the] captain and see no path to escape from the dilemma,” Sunai Phasuk, a HRW researcher, told Al Jazeera.

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Min Oo, a fisherman from Myanmar, said he thought about running away from the boat.

“But if I tried to escape, they would pay people to hunt me down. They would beat me up and smash my head and then send me injured back to the boat,” he said.

The authorities in Thailand have disputed the claims, however.

“The consumers of America and Europe can eat our seafood. Everything is fine. Every problem has been fixed by the current government,” Mongkol Sukcharoenkana, chairman of the National Fisheries Association, told Al Jazeera.

“The boats are correct and the workers are correct. There is no more forced labour.”

But HRW said the risk of abuse still exists in large part due to gaps in the current regulatory system.

Thai employers can still grant third parties the power to register migrant workers, for example.

“The ability of unregulated brokers to control the recruitment of workers up to the point of placing them on a fishing vessel for work, together with the lack of oversight by key government agencies and some employers over the registration process, exacerbates the risk of forced labour,” HRW said in its report.