Compiled from State Department and News Reports
Contribution by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
Thailand, a major provider of shrimp and other seafood to the U.S., has joined Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Maldives, Malaysia, and Venezuela as Tier 3 countries in a recently released Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report.
The announcement made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department. These countries join 16 others including North Korea, Iran, China and Russia in the lowest tier.
The State Department’s human trafficking methodology is a three-tier system. Tier 3 is comprised of countries that are the most egregious participants in trafficking and are thus subject to heavy sanctions. Tier 2 includes countries complicit in trafficking, but which, from the State Department’s perspective, are making significant efforts to counter the problem. Tier 1 is comprised of countries not significantly engaged in the industry.
A Need to Do Better
In an exclusive article with IntraFish, Thai officials thought they had done enough to avoid falling to “Tier-3” of this year’ report, but US officials told the publication “the bad outweighed the good.”
“There is acute awareness throughout Thailand of the need to better identify and help victims of trafficking, and there is strong commitment from the nation’s leadership and all Ministries working together as a team,” Director General Songsak Saichuea, Ministry of Thailand Foreign Affairs, told the publication.
Because of the reduction in status, Thailand and its multi-billion-dollar shrimp industry could see severe sanctions from the United States, said the State Department’s Ambassador At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca following the announcement.
Human Rights Watch and the American Federation of Labor, said Thailand “does not meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, nor is it taking real steps to meet those standards.” Shrimp and other seafood fishing are vital to the Thailand economy that employs more than 650,000 people and produces more than $7 billion in seafood exports to dinner tables all over the world, including a large majority in the U.S.
Dark Side of Human Trafficking
“If the cries of those who are enslaved around the world today were an earthquake, then the tremors would be felt in every single nation on the continent on every continent simultaneously,” said Kerry. “For years, we have known that this crime affects every country in the world, including ours. We’re not exempt. More than 20 million people, a conservative estimate, are victims of human trafficking. And the United States is the first to acknowledge that no government anywhere yet is doing enough. We’re trying. Some aren’t trying enough. Others are trying hard. And we all need to try harder and do more.”
Long a magnet to workers from other counters, there are an estimated two to three million migrant workers in Thailand. Many of these become trafficking victims and are subjected to forced labor aboard Thai fishing boats, according to the TIP report.
“Some men remain at sea for up to several years, are paid very little, and are expected to work 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, or are threatened and physically beaten,” it states.
Implications For Gulf Shrimp
Human rights violations by countries, or individuals, is unacceptable at any level,” said Margaret Henderson, executive director of the Gulf Seafood Institute. . “Disturbing revelations made public in the recent TIP Report is yet another example of why it is so important for the U.S. seafood community to arm consumers with traceability and sustainability information. We in the Gulf seafood community are working to do just that.”
An editorial published in the Sunday New York Times by the editorial staff, reported revelations about Thailand should persuade major global corporations, including Costco, Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco, to change their business models. “They should refuse to import from fishermen or companies that have been reliably identified by watchdog groups as using slave labor. They also need to pressure the Thai government to ensure that abusers who hire trafficked employees are prosecuted and that the victims are protected and treated with respect,” it said.
Any decision on sanctions must from the President. According to CdeBaca, President Obama could potentially limit any and all shrimp imports to the United States. This could have an impact on the already high prices of U.S. shrimp, including Gulf shrimp.
According to GSI board member Jim Gossen who serves as chairman of Sysco Louisiana Seafood, “We will see major buyers both retail and food service shy away from shrimp produced in Thailand. This will help Gulf shrimpers continue to receive a higher dock price. This ruling will effect Thailand for at least a year assuming they correct the human trafficking charges, and longer if they don’t.”
“Many in the Gulf and domestic shrimping industry have called out numerous countries on their abusive labor practices resulting in unfair pricing on imported shrimp in the American market,” said Kim Chauvin, owner of Bluewater Shrimp Company in Dulac, La. “It’s such a travesty to hear these stories of people being used and abused.”