Slavery at sea is an area of research Seafarers’ Rights International has particular interest in, and so it was interesting to read the new report issued by the Walk Free Foundation today on the global state of slavery. Their 2016 Global Slavery Index documented that nearly 46 million people are now enslaved throughout the world.
In a year where we’ve seen over 100 arrests in Thailand over the human rights abuses in the seafood industry where forced labour practices have been uncovered, it is important that the world, and its consumers, sees that slavery is not a historic problem. It’s happening today and affects millions of vulnerable workers at sea and land.
Forced labour is only part of the story, of course. In the seafood industry, we see exploitation of wages, living conditions, threatening behavior and verbal abuse, to name just a few of the infringements of basic human rights. Those that work at sea are inherently vulnerable, and with Thailand being the world’s third largest exporter of seafood, the part they play in slavery is now firmly on the radar.
However, the country relies on that export and, in 2015, the EU threatened an import ban of seafood (worth $20 THB Billion) if Thailand didn’t reform its fishing industry. As a result, the Thai government ‘embarked on a comprehensive fisheries reform to tackle deep-seated problems in the fisheries sector’. Source: http://www.thaiembassy.org
In March this year, the Ministry of Labour of Thailand continued cooperation with the ILO and the EU by launching the project: ‘Combatting Unacceptable Forms of Work in the Thai Fishing and Seafood Industry’. The project is taking steps to reduce existing forced labour, and prevent future exploitation of vulnerable groups of workers such as children, women and migrants, by introducing laws and strengthening governance, empowering workers and seafarers to exercise their rights against scrupulous employers and recruiters.
It is clear that much work remains to be done to improve workers’ rights and conditions. Trade threats are pushing change, but as the Global Slavery Index clearly shows, we have a long way to go to eradicate forced labour and slavery throughout the world.