Shrimp and other seafood fishing is a big business in Thailand. The industry employs more than 650,000 people and annually produces more than $7 billion in exports that show up on dinner tables all over the world, including in the United States. It also has a horrific dark side. Its reliance on slave labor is so pervasive and ugly that the State Department now lists Thailand as one of the worst violators among 188 countries judged every year on how they deal with human trafficking.
The revelations about Thailand should persuade major global corporations, including Costco, Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco, that their business models have to change. They should refuse to import from fishermen or companies that have been reliably identified by watchdog groups as using slave labor. They also need to pressure the Thai government to ensure that abusers who hire trafficked employees are prosecuted and that the victims are protected and treated with respect.
Under American law, aid and other assistance can be withheld if countries do not crack down on trafficking; Washington should not hesitate to use this tool when it can be effective. Consumers have a role to play, too, by refusing to purchase products produced with slave labor.
BP: Very strong words. While the downgrade has nothing directly to the coup – although the role of the Navy in treatment of the Rohingya is certainly an issue – this downgrade and the fact that we have a military government may reduce the confidence of some in Thailand’s ability to reverse the course in the next year. Now, certainly many in Thailand are happy with the military government for taking decisive action on a number of fronts, but the issue of trafficking is not just about decisive action and enforcing the law. You have the issue of human rights. Military governments are not known for respecting human rights so don’t be surprised if Thailand is punished indirectly because of the coup as well by some suppliers.