The owner of a fishing company, three enforcers and four boat captains were arrested on November 7 on charges of trafficking, abuse and exploitation in the southern port of Kantang after the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) handed police evidence against them on Monday. The three year investigation is looking into the money trail and more arrests are likely said Thai police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen.
EJF’s director Steve Trent said he hoped evidence the organization had collected would be fully tested in court to protect fishermen, many of whom are migrant workers trafficked from Thailand’s poorer neighbors, Cambodia and Myanmar. EJF’s 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 that was repeated elsewhere in the country. The report comes a week after Swiss food giant Nestle SA admitted that slave labor was used in its Thai seafood supply chain. The European Union threatened earlier this year to ban Thai seafood imports if the country failed to adopt adequate measures against slave labor and illegal fishing.
EJF said Kantang’s fishing industry netted 65,000 tons of seafood in 2013 for which Thailand’s seafood industry employs more than 650,000 people of whom about 200,000 are migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, many of whom are undocumented.
Brokers in Kantang, a port in decline about 150 km (90 miles) from the Malaysian border in Trang province, employ a network of enforcers and informants and control crew while they are on shore. At sea, the fishermen face violence, intimidation, dangerous working conditions and even murder, according to the EJF report.
Royal Thai Police deputy spokesman Kissana said police are extending the detention of the eight suspects, who by law can be held for 84 days in total with charges expected soon.
Trent said more action was needed to clean up the industry. The extent of the problem in the Thai fishing industry is hard to gauge.