|Thais profit from US$10 Myanmar and Cambodian slaves running US$7b fishing business
Sifting through sardines at a port in southern Thailand, Shi-Jai is one of thousands of migrant workers from Myanmar and Cambodia – including women and children – who keep the kingdom's huge fishing industry in business.
Each day a small army of laborers – some legal, some undocumented – man rusting trawlers or help offload and sort the catch at ports around the country.
Shi-Jai, who hails from Myanmar's Mon State, says she earns about US$10 a day at a port in Thailand's south where killings by Islamic extremists continue.
“It is not too much, but it is higher than I can earn at home,'' she says as a stern-faced superviser prowls along the line of women – and a handful of children – sorting through the morning catch.
The workers live in scruffy dormitory blocks close to the port in Pattani in Thailand's deep south, where a near decade-long rebellion led by Muslim militants has claimed more than 5,700 lives.
Thailand is the world's third largest fish exporter by value, with sales of US$7 billion a year.
But it is under international pressure to respond to reports of fishermen forced to work as virtual slaves under brutal conditions.
Earlier this month the International Labour Organisation warned of “serious abuses'' in the fishing industry such as forced labor and violence.
Ten percent of respondents to an ILO survey reported being severely beaten on board boats, while more than a quarter said they worked or were on call between 17 and 24 hours a day.
About 17 percent of the mainly undocumented Myanmar and Cambodian fishermen surveyed by the ILO in Thailand were forced to work under threat of financial penalty, violence or denunciation to the authorities.
The European Union and United States, which are major markets for Thai seafood products, have vowed to jointly combat illegal and unregulated fishing.
Thailand sits near the bottom of an annual US people trafficking report and must improve its efforts on combating forced labor or face relegation next year – which could trigger cuts in non-humanitarian and non-trade US aid.—AFP