Human Rights: Part I – Slavery in the Thai Fishing Industry

Animal rights are an obvious part of why it’s beneficial for the world to stop eating animals.  Did you know that human rights are also involved?  I hadn’t thought about that until I stumbled upon some articles, but it makes sense.  In order to provide the vast number of animals humans want to eat, industries must employ people to raise, catch, and kill the animals.  Would you want to work at a slaughterhouse or live on an industrial fishing boat, out at sea for years at a time?  When greedy and nefarious businesses in need of labor intersect with vulnerable populations in need of work, human rights violations can run rampant.

A few articles I read recently involve Thailand, a country that, according to the State Department, is among the worst in the world for human trafficking, and also supplies a large amount of the world’s seafood.  In the Thai fishing industry, migrant workers escaping their neighboring home countries for better opportunities end up living and working essentially as slaves.  Their labor in turn allows the industry to cheaply acquire lots of fish and has contributed to advancing Thailand’s $7.3 billion/year fish industry.  With the global demand for seafood increasing (haven’t we all heard the supposed benefits of eating fish?), the supply must keep up.

An estimated 200,000 unregistered people currently work on Thai fishing vessels, and many have died already – the count will never be known (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/11/asia/freedom-project-thailand-fishing-slave-ships/).  The industry has institutionalized lying, coercing, and even violently forcing people to work for them.  Once out at sea, the crews are at the mercy of the captains.  Over time, the vessels must travel further from land in search of fish, as overfishing depletes the fish in the Gulf of Thailand.  Crews may work 20 hours a day in dangerous conditions for years at a time, never returning to shore, risking their lives to infection, accidents, and violence, for meager to no compensation.  Migrants are trafficked and kept on tiny islands that have become open air prisons, so the fishing industry can use them as labor on fishing vessels.

The Thai government has vowed to crack down on human trafficking, and Western countries have tried to track the origins of seafood that they bring onto their grocery store shelves.  Despite these efforts, the problem is getting worse as global demand for seafood increases and overfishing worsens.

How can you help end this form of modern day slavery? If the fishing industry doesn’t have anybody willing to buy their fish, they and their cruel practices will sink.

Here are the articles I’ve read (all accessed 8/17/2015):

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/11/asia/freedom-project-thailand-fishing-slave-ships/

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/world/outlaw-ocean-thailand-fishing-sea-slaves-pets.html?emc=edit_na_20150727&nlid=56062739&ref=cta&_r=0&referrer=

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/20/thai-fishing-industry-implicated-enslavement-deaths-rohingya

Image: http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2015/08/crossing-borders-defying-policing-abuses-thailands-fishing-industry-challenge-international-system/ accessed 8/18/15

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