Trafficking and forced labour is prevalent despite new government legislation, according to a new report. A formal complaint has been made to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) by the international trade unions last year, with evidence of migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar going through physical abuse, non-payment of wages and 20-hour working days.
The ruling by the ILO to Thailand’s government to stub out slavery and corruption reveals the government has made little progress on fixing the issue, even with pressure from the US and European Union.
Evidence received by the ILO from the International Transport Federation and the International Trade Union Conference showed cases of forced labour and mistreatment of both Thai and migrant workers, with the evidence gathered through interviews conducted with workers by the ITF in 2015.
Thailand’s US$6.5 billion seafood export industry has suffered drastically following accusations of human rights and labour abuses, and illegal fishing. Thailand is the world’s fourth largest seafood exporter, according to recent figures. In 2014, Thailand was moved down in the US state department’s Trafficking in Persons report, which marks countries on their standpoint on slavery. In 2015, Thailand was given a “yellow card” warning by the EU to fix this issue or face a ban on EU imports.
One of the most serious crimes brought to light in the report were the widespread corruption of government officials who are linked to gangs; who frequently tortured and even murdered migrant workers who tried to leave the inhumane working conditions. The execution of workers who tried to flee was to serve as warning to others planning the same.
Crimes committed by the gangs were thriving due to corrupt local officials backing these offences. The Thai government did not have sufficient evidence to hold government officials culpable for their crimes in aiding trafficking.
Civil servants disclosing cases of corruption had to flee the country as they could be charged with defamation. To prevent anyone from speaking out about trafficking persons, criminal defamation would be charged against those who do. Witnesses in cases involving government officials who abetted in trafficking have been harassed and threatened.
Workers claimed they were locked up and made to work on vessels in Indonesian waters and that they were frequently fishing illegally. Workers said they had witnessed the murder of crewmen by their captains. They had to suffer working in inhumane conditions where food was limited, enduring 20-hour workdays, and witnessing abuse of other crew by their captains.
Thailand’s government has introduced new measures to address trafficking and forced labour, but the ILO report emphasised that not enough has been done. Gaps in the nation’s legal framework and enforcement were revealed; in particular in the regulation of brokers who recruit workers, effective inspection of fishing vessels, and charging corrupt government officials.