Steve Trent, EJF Executive Director said:
“The court’s decision is a vital step towards getting justice for the victims of the unspeakable human rights abuses witnessed within Thailand’s fishing sector. Coming after a decision by the Ranong Provincial Court in February to acquit two people of their trafficking and abuse charges, this ruling is an important precedent for future human trafficking cases in Thailand and provides hope for many others still awaiting justice.
The prosecution of those people controlling and benefiting from human trafficking, slavery and exploitation has been, and continues to be, an essential tool in the fight against the abuses taking place at sea. By taking definitive action against these individuals and organizations, Thai authorities will help to deter others from using forced and slave labour, and protect the lives of thousands of vulnerable workers.”
The six defendants sentenced in Trang included the former chairman of the Trang Fishing Association and owner of Boonlarp Fishing L.P. Sompon Jirotemontree, who ran his fishing vessels using forced and slave labour, and Somjit Srisawang, who helped supply Sompon’s business with trafficked labourers from Myanmar.
Sompon, Somjit and six others were arrested on 7 November 2015 after EJF shared a detailed dossier of evidence of forced labour and exploitation with Thai authorities, including the testimonies of trafficked workers who had managed to escape their boats.
The Trang court’s verdict is the culmination of EJF’s three-year investigation into the use of slavery in Kantang’s seafood industry.
In March 2013, EJF carried out its first investigation into trafficked and forced labour on-board Thai fishing vessels in Kantang, detailed in the report Sold to the Sea. In EJF’s 2015 follow-up Thailand Seafood Slaves it uncovered a sophisticated system of trafficking, slavery, abuse and exploitation on-board vessels in the southern Thai port.
As well as the 14 year sentences, the Boonlarp Fishing Company L.P. was also given a 600,000 baht fine, while the victims were awarded 1.9 million baht compensation. Four other defendants were released.
EJF continues to work across Thailand and the wider region to combat the human rights abuses in the fishing industry, as well as the overfishing and pirate fishing practices that drive them.
For further information, please contact EJF Communications Coordinator, Tierney Smith, email@example.com, +44 (0) 207 239 3310, +44 (0) 7871 946 911
Notes to editors:
- Thailand seafood industry is worth over US$5.5 billion, employing more than 800,000 people. Over 90% of workers on Thailand’s fishing boats are migrants.
- Catch per unit effort (CPUE) - the amount of fish caught in one hour of fishing effort - has fallen by 75% and 93% in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand respectively since the 1960s. This has pushed vessels further to sea - often fishing illegal in other countries waters – and has fuelled the use of cheap, or unpaid, labour.
- In April, 2015 Thailand was issued a warning or ‘yellow card’ by the European Union for its failure to combat ‘pirate’ fishing which damages marine environments and threatens human rights. It remains on Tier 2 of the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for failing to address human trafficking.
- On 7 November 2015, a joint operation in Kantang raided onshore and offshore targets connected to the owner of Boonlarp Fishing Limited Partnership and President of the provincial Fishing Association, Sompon Jirotmontree. The operation was initiated after EJF passed a detailed dossier of evidence to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and other high-level officials. Arrest warrants were issued for eight individuals following the at-sea operation on 20 October 2015 which rescued 12 men from on board Boonlarp vessels who, in addition to six escaped victims of abuse, provided investigators with information and evidence. Among those arrested was Mr. Jirotmontree.
- EJF’s 2015 Thailand Seafood Slaves report identified and named key individuals involved in a sophisticated system for trafficking, exploitation and violent abuse of vulnerable migrant workers. Intelligence is corroborated by in-depth interviews with victims of slavery escaped from key fishing operators. It documented the route and processes used to enslave trafficked workers from Myanmar on to fishing boats; provided detailed eye-witness testimony to the violence and murders at sea on fishing vessels and on land; reported corruption and involvement of local police in the on-going human rights abuses and illegal fishing operations; and highlighted the nexus between the illegal pirate fishing operations, exploitation and use of bonded, forced and slave labour.
- For more on the Ranong Provincial Court ruling: http://hrdfoundation.org/?p=1792&lang=en