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January 14, 2015

Open Letter on Recruitment of Prisoners to Work on Thai Fishing Boats

Humanity United and 44 other human rights and labor groups sign a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

More than a dozen labor and human rights organizations today sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking him to end a pilot project to recruit prisoners from Thailand’s correctional facilities to fill a labor shortage in the fishing industry. Multiple reports have documented gross labor violations on Thai fishing boats, including forced labor, physical violence, illegally low wages and human trafficking.

“Thailand cannot run from the trafficking problem in its fishing fleet,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “And sending prisoners to sea will not address the systematic, pervasive labor problems in Thailand’s fishing industry. It is time for the Thai government to recognize that its treatment of migrant workers lies at the heart of the problem and take real, meaningful steps to ensure all workers within its borders work in dignified, just conditions.”

The groups cited rights abuses as a primary reason that explains labor shortages on fishing boats, and said the prison program would do nothing to end those abuses. They also expressed concern that the plan would merely augment the migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia who currently comprise the majority of the workforce on Thai fishing vessels with Thai prisoners who are equally vulnerable to abuses. Migrant fishers are almost entirely undocumented and without legal status, making them afraid to report to Thai authorities about rights violations they suffer on fishing boats.

The signatories also predicted the prison labor plan could have negative economic and political consequences for Thailand. It noted Western retailers and buyers are already increasingly wary that Thai seafood is produced in supply chains dependent on forced labor and other labor rights abuses, and warned that this scrutiny would intensify if buyers have to deal with new concerns regarding conscripted prison labor in their supply chains.

Read the letter’s full text here.

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