For Immediate Release
Contact: Eliza Bates elizamargarita [at] gmail.com (subject: SWG%20Statement)
BANGKOK, Thailand – Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and other organizations in the Seafood Working Group (SWG) today said they are encouraged by the Thai Department of Corrections’ recent commitment to end forced labor and halt the production of fishing nets in prisons. Now, they are calling on the Thai government to follow through and uphold labor rights.
“The Department of Corrections might do what they promised, but the media and NGOs should keep making noise and keep on the pressure because the government doesn’t always know what is going on inside the prisons. Nobody goes inside to check. Fishing nets production is the most profitable for the prisons, including the wardens. Authorities might be bribed so that fishing nets production can continue, so more monitoring of work in the prisons is needed, said Khun Pui*, former prisoner in Songkhla Province.
GLJ-ILRF and other groups in the SWG have raised serious concerns about working conditions in Thailand’s seafood industry, including forced prison labor used in the production of fishing nets for international export, as well as long-standing concerns over labor exploitation of Southeast Asian migrant workers in commercial seafood processing factories and on fishing vessels. In March 2022, following a petition our international coalition submitted to the U.S. government and alongside media pressure, the Thai government announced it would end the use of forced labor in prisons.
According to a public communication from March 1, 2022, the Thai Department of Corrections issued an order to reform the prison labor program through the appointment of a prison labor reform advisor and committees, which will assess the prison labor system against the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Mandela Rules”) and compliance with basic human rights principles related to occupational health and safety and labor, as well as wages. These new committees will be formed in all of Thailand’s 143 prisons, and they will determine inmates’ pay for different types of work based on the minimum wage in that province and other factors.
According to recents article published by BBC Thailand and Reuters, the government said it had issued a notification on May 2, 2022 to the 25 prisons and correctional institutions that had signed contracts to manufacture fishing nets, instructing them to either terminate or not extend the contracts set to expire in September 2022. The Department of Corrections committed to improve the treatment of prisoners to be in line with international standards, including the Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners, so that their work will be beneficial for their future employment after release. Prisoners who were making fishing nets will go through a Prisoner Classification process conducted by a multidisciplinary team of correctionalist institutional professionals to allocate job training or work. In addition, some prisons announced policies to increase the remuneration rate for specific types of work, including for the production of fishing nets.
“The prison I was in, and where my brother is still imprisoned, just announced that fishing nets production will be stopped. This is a good thing because that type of work is too difficult; it makes the prisoners tired and always involves threats from prison officials if prisoners can not meet the quotas. If there is no more production of fishing nets, the lives of prisoners will be much better. And the increase in pay by only 10 baht per unit for prisoners still making nets [until the contracts expire] is way too low,” said Khun Pui*, former prisoner in Songkhla Province.
The SWG is calling on the Department of Corrections to publicize the details of all recent prison labor program reforms and to publicly release the findings and recommendations made by the prison labor reform advisor and committees. The Department should give independent inspection bodies access to all prisons in order to encourage transparency and accountability. The SWG is also calling for prisoner’s wages to be in line with the Ministerial Regulation on the Calculation of Monetary Income and the Payment of Reward for Inmates (2020) and for remedy for prisoners who have been exploited in the making of fishing nets in the past.
The groups say that the Thai government must hold accountable Thai companies that seek to profit from forced labor by prosecuting companies that violate the Anti-Human Trafficking Act and by enacting legislation to mandate companies to conduct effective human rights due diligence of their supply chains.
To improve working conditions in Thailand’s commercial seafood industry more broadly, the SWG is also calling on the government to make a real commitment to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for migrant workers so they can organize to protect their rights.
“This case shows that the Thai government must do much more to effectively identify and hold accountable Thai companies that seek to profit from forced labor in their supply chains,” said JJ Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF).
GLJ-ILRF and its SWG allies have called on the U.S. government to use its 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report to maintain pressure on the Thai government to end abuses in the Thai seafood supply chain. The report is expected to be released this summer.
*All names have been replaced with aliases for the security of individuals.
GLJ-ILRF is a non-profit public-interest organization dedicated to achieving dignity and justice for workers worldwide. GLJ-ILRF focuses on enforcing labor rights and promoting decent work conditions consistent with best practices and ILO standards in the low-wage sections of global supply chains such as commercial fishing. GLJ-ILRF engages in research, policy work, advocacy, and education of the public and consumers.
Chaired by GLJ-ILRF, the Seafood Working Group (SWG) is a global coalition of human rights, labor and environmental organizations that work together to develop and advocate for effective government policies and industry actions to end the related problems of forced labor, illegal fishing and overfishing in the international seafood trade.