A THREE-year investigation into slavery on Thai fishing boats has uncovered a well-oiled system of trafficking, abuse and exploitation in the southern port of Kantang in Trang, leading to eight arrests this month, a campaign group said yesterday.
The owner of a fishing company, three enforcers and four boat captains were arrested on November 7 after the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) handed police evidence against them, including testimonies from fishermen who escaped their boats.
Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said they expected to lay charges early in 2016 with investigation ongoing into the money trail and more arrests likely.
EJF’s report comes a week after Swiss food giant Nestle SA admitted that slave labour was used in its Thai seafood supply chain, adding to mounting calls to clean up a US$3 billion (Bt107 billion) industry long dogged by allegations of abuse.
EJF director Steve Trent said he hoped evidence the organisation had collected would be fully tested in court to protect fishermen, many of whom are migrant workers trafficked from poorer neighbours Cambodia and Myanmar.
“This cannot be an arbitrary kangaroo court just driven to please the international community at this key time for Thailand. It’s got to bring people justice,” Trent told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
EJF said Kantang’s fishing industry, which netted 65,000 tonnes of seafood in 2013, is dominated by three companies who help make Thailand the world’s third largest seafood exporter.
The dominant companies are Boonlarp Fishing Co Ltd, Jor Monchai, and Wor Wattana Sohpon.
“With respect to the fishermen, we do everything correctly now. We do not violate migrant fishermen’s rights. We hire them correctly and treat them right,” said a man at Boonlarp’s office in Kantang who answered a phone call.
He declined further comment and would not give his name.
Jor Monchai owner Pramote Cholwisit insisted violence and labour violations were a problem of the past.
“On shore, there are no such violations. At sea, there maybe some problems – before there were many. When the migrants fight at sea, it can become violent, and we try to solve this problem by putting them on separate boats,” Pramote said by telephone from Trang.
“At my pier, I guarantee there are no such problems.”
The Thomson Reuters Foundation could not immediately find a working telephone number or email address for Wor Wattana.
The EJF report details how migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar are trafficked to work on Kantang’s fishing fleets, becoming trapped in a cycle of debt and abuse repeated elsewhere in the country.brokers in Kantang, located about 150 kilometres from the Malaysian border, employ a network of enforcers and informants, such as motorbike taxi drivers, to monitor and control crew while they are on shore.
At sea, the fishermen face violence, intimidation, dangerous working conditions and even murder, the EJF report said.
“They would torture and murder the fishers then throw them into the sea,” escaped migrant worker, Tun Thet Soe, told EJF.
The extent of the problem in the fishing industry is hard to gauge.