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EJF event in Brussels: Combating illegal pirate fishing and modern-day slavery in Thailand
Mar 05, 2015

EJF event in Brussels: Combating illegal pirate fishing and modern-day slavery in Thailand

By EJF Staff

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) hosted an event in Brussels last night examining the relationship between Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or ‘pirate’ fishing, overfishing and trafficked, forced and bonded labour in Thailand’s seafood industry.

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The event drew on the EU's achievements in the fight against pirate fishing since the EU IUU Regulation came into force in 2010 and considered the EU's role in global initiatives to address pirate fishing and its devastating effects on the environment and human rights.

Six expert speakers gave presentations covering the EU IUU Regulation with respect to IUU in Thailand; the EU IUU Regulation on the global stage including the significance of the carding process and success stories so far; Thailand's efforts to combat IUU among vessels operating within and beyond Thailand's waters; the EU's global role in combating labour trafficking; Thailand's efforts to date to combat trafficked, forced and bonded labour in the Thai fishing industry; the need for overfishing, pirate fishing and human trafficking to be tackled as interconnected problems, the benchmarks for success and the need for a multi-stakeholder, multi-track approach.

The six expert speakers were:

  • César Debén, Principal Adviser, Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission
  • Linnéa Engström, MEP Vice-Chair, Committee on Fisheries, European Parliament
  • Dr. Waraporn Prompoj, Deputy Director-General, Department of Fisheries
  • Anna Ekstedt, Policy Officer, Office of the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, European Commission
  • Songsak Saicheua, Director-General, Department of American and South Pacific Affairs
  • Steve Trent, Executive Director, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)

The event, held at the Brussels Press Club Europe, featured a screening of EJF’s new film which features footage from EJF’s investigations of human rights abuses on Thai fishing vessels, and was attended by representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament, Mission of Thailand to the European Union, Thai Department of Fisheries, Royal Thai Embassy, Embassy of the Philippines, Charoen Pokphand Foods UK, national governments, civil society and the private sector.

After half a century of uncontrolled overfishing and poor fisheries management, Thailand's waters are some of the most overexploited regions in the world. In one hour of fishing, a commercial trawler now catches 14% of what it would have in the 1960s. Economic pressures and changes in the labour market related to overfishing have resulted in rampant pirate fishing, in both the short-haul and distant water fleets. Faced with declining catches, rising costs and the need to go out further and for longer, unscrupulous vessel operators have resorted to using slavery to crew fishing boats. Ecological destruction and human rights abuses continue to be fundamental aspects of Thailand’s seafood sector, which generated an estimated $7 billion dollars of revenue in 2013; making the country the third largest seafood exporter in the world.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), who hosted the event, has spent three years investigating and researching Thailand’s seafood sector in relation to human trafficking and environmental degradation. EJF’s investigations into human rights abuses in the seafood sector began in West Africa in 2010, with All at Sea.

At the event last night, EJF reiterated the detailed recommendations made in their latest report, of specific measures needed from the Royal Thai Government and producers, retailers and buyers of Thai seafood. These recommendations are premised on the urgent need to address overfishing, illegal fishing and modern slavery as fundamentally interconnected issues.

EJF believes that seafood supply chains can be both sustainable and ethical.

“It is vital to address overfishing, pirate fishing and slavery in Thailand as one fundamentally interconnected problem. The starting point must be an honest appraisal of the scale and extent of the social and environmental problems facing the Thai seafood industry. All stakeholders must work together to ensure the protection of the oceans and marine life, and eradication of slavery at sea." - Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF

Notes to editors

  • Thailand is the 3rd largest seafood exporter in the world, with exports valued at $7.0 billion in 2013 (Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2014).
  • The EU imported more than $1.15 billion (€835.5 million) worth of seafood from Thailand in 2012 (Eurostat, The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MARM), 2014).
  • The EU IUU Regulation came into force in 2010. The regulation allows the EU to first “yellow card” non-cooperating third countries as a warning, and finally “red card” countries and impose a series of trade restrictions, if cooperation and commitment to implement key measures to combat IUU fishing – such as strengthening their vessels monitoring and sanctioning systems – are not demonstrated.
  • The overall catch per unit of effort (CPUE) in both the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Seas has plummeted by more than 86% since 1966, making Thai waters among the most over-fished regions on the planet. (Thailand Department of Fisheries, 2008).
  • To reduce overheads, boat operators perpetuate poor working conditions and low wages. This has led to a significant labour shortage – an estimated shortfall of 50,000 people (ILO, Employment Practices and Working Conditions in Thailand’s Fishing Sector, 2013).
  • In 2014, the US Department of State downgraded Thailand to Tier 3 in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The TIP Report stated that the Thai Government had demonstrated insufficient efforts to address trafficking, particularly as a result of its systematic failure to “investigate, prosecute, and convict ship owners and captains for extracting forced labor from migrant workers, or officials who may be complicit in these crimes.” (United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2014).
  • The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is a UK-based non-profit organisation working internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights. EJF believes environmental security is a human right.
  • EJF’s Oceans Campaign mission is to protect the marine environment, its biodiversity and the livelihoods dependent on it. The campaign aims to eradicate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or ‘pirate’ fishing. We are working to create full transparency and traceability within seafood supply chains and markets. We actively promote improvements to policy-making, corporate governance, management of fisheries, consumer activism and market driven solutions.
  • Our ambition is to secure truly sustainable, well-managed fisheries and with this the protection and effective conservation of marine biodiversity and ecosystems and the protection of human rights. EJF believes that there must be greater equity in global fisheries to ensure developing countries and vulnerable communities are given fair access and support to sustainably manage their natural resources and the right to work in the seafood industry without suffering labour and human rights abuses. 
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