Thai Gov’t Aware of Slavery in Shrimp Sector

Thai Gov’t Aware of Slavery in Shrimp SectorThai Gov’t Aware of Slavery in Shrimp Sector

Thailand’s government said on Monday it is not ignoring the slavery and forced labor in its lucrative shrimp industry that was highlighted in an AP investigation published last week.

Government spokesman, Sansern Kaewkamnerd, flanked by police, navy and other officials, held a news conference specifically to address issues raised by the AP story. The report has elicited widespread reactions across the world, including from major food companies in the US, Europe and Australia that buy Thai seafood.

Sansern said the government was already aware of slavery in the industry before the AP report was released Dec. 14.

“The report said that government officials ignore (this matter) ... This is not the truth,” he said. “Authorities found it first,” he said, adding that the Thai government wants the shrimp industry to have “proper working conditions according to international laws”.

Thailand is one of the world’s biggest shrimp providers and its seafood export industry is estimated to bring in about $7 billion annually.

The AP report revealed the widespread use of undocumented migrant laborers, many from neighboring Myanmar. Many of these laborers end up being tricked or sold into shrimp-peeling sheds where they are forced to work 16-hour days with no time off and little or no pay for sometimes years at a time.

Many workers are held under debt bondage, forced to repay money the company gave to the agents who sold them. Some end up locked inside. Others are allowed to go out, but only if they leave their children or spouse behind as a guarantee against running away.

At the news conference on Monday, government officials did not deny the existence of forced labor. But they disputed parts of the story, especially the AP’s assertion that police took bribes and turned a blind eye to the practices in the industry.

“This is not true,” Sansern said without elaborating.

The AP stood by its report, part of a series of investigations this year into slavery in the fishing industry in the region. More than 2,000 trapped fishermen were freed earlier this year from an island in Indonesia as a result of the AP’s work.

The reports also have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars’ worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws.