A new report from a British activist group is placing Thailand’s fishing industry in some pretty hot water, with allegations that 15 Burmese workers of a Thai crew were basically slaves. The group is now urging the United States, which is the No. 1 importer of Thai fish products, to hold Thailand accountable for the reported abuses the workers suffered at the hands of the fishing crew.
In the report “Sold to the Sea: human trafficking in Thailand’s fishing industry” by British NGO the Environmental Justice Foundation, the group details the plight of 15 Burmese workers who say they were beaten and abused by a Thai fishing crew, and forced to work for 20 hours a day for either little or no money, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
The men have since been rescued from the ship, where they say they saw others tortured and murdered by the crew for not working hard enough.
“We were shocked by the extreme levels of violence inflicted on and witnessed by migrant men held as captive workers on these boats,” said Steve Trent, executive director of EJF in a statement. “This is not an isolated case, but indicative of the widespread acceptance and use of modern slavery in an industry that feeds a global appetite for seafood.”
The EJF and other anti-trafficking groups now want the U.S. state department to downgrade Thailand in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which would put it at the the lowest level. If Thailand is downgraded from Tier 2 to Tie 3, it would be among the worst countries for trafficking in the world and could result in repercussions like restrictions on U.S. foreign aid and access to institutions like the World Bank.
However, it’s up for debate, say experts, if the U.S. will actually do that, because of the cozy trade and tourist ties the countries share. To that end, America is the No. 1 buyer of Thai’s fish products like tuna and shrimp with exports to the U.S. from Thailand valued at $1.8 billion in frozen and fresh fish in 2011.
The next TIP report is due out next month.
Was the fish you had for dinner caught by slaves? New report raises alarm [Christian Science Monitor]