Limited Trafficking, Rampant Abuse in Thai Fishing Industry

Only one of the 241 Cambodians questioned for the largest survey of the notoriously abusive Thai fishing industry’s workforce to date said he was forced into the job, according to a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Though some of the findings are in contrast to NGO reports of rampant trafficking of migrant workers into the $7 billion-a-year industry, the report—entitled Employment Practices and Working Conditions in Thailand’s Fishing Sector and released Monday—does find widespread labor law abuse.

Nearly all the 596 workers surveyed, most of them from Burma, had no contracts, which violates Thai labor regulations. Just more than 5 percent of those surveyed said they were tricked or coerced into the work and 17 percent said they stayed in Thailand against their will either for fear of physical abuse or losing wages.

“There are limitations in the regulation of the industry because of the dated legislative framework, unclear and inadequate delineation of territorial jurisdictions and insufficient resources and capacities for authorities to effectively carry out their mandates,” the report, which was conducted by the Asian Research Center on Migration at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said.

“As a result, the industry has overexploited marine resources and has been implicated in widespread exploitation and abuse of workers, including forced labor and human trafficking.”

While the ILO said the report marked the largest survey of workers in the industry to date, it added that the numbers were still too low to prove fully representative. By relying on interviews with fisherman on shore, it also under-represented workers out on long-haul boats, where abuse is most common.

Of the 241 Cambodians surveyed, six said they had been physically abused, according to the report. And while only one said he was forced into the work by his parents, 22 said they were pressured to stay against their will after they had started voluntarily.

More than half the Cambodians surveyed said they joined the industry because of the wages on offer. They also said they received slightly lower wages on average than their Burmese counterparts.

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