Thai Civil Society’s Coalition urges international business parties to solve hot issues on fishery, labour and environmental sustainability

The press conference on “Roles of Business Sector and Civil Society in Solving Labour and Environmental Problems of Thai Fishing Industry” was held by the Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood at 10 a.m. on January 31, 2017 at the Dusit Thani Hotel, Bangkok. The aim was to reflect the voices of people affected by various aspects of labour and marine resources.

Participants were representatives of the Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood (“Thai CSO Coalition”), among them Chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association Banjong Nasae; Director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), Sompong Srakaew; the Coordinator of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) Suthasinee Kaewleklai; Chief of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federation, Sama-ae Jehmudor; former fishery labourer Samart Senasu; and the Manager of the Federation of Thai Fisherfolk Association, Wichoksak Ronarongpairee.

Over the past year, human rights violations and lack of sustainability in the Thai fishing industry have been hot issues that have remained unsolvable.  Unsustainability in the production chain has a direct impact on the lives of crews and labourers as well as on environmental disasters.  This phenomenon has resulted in large supermarkets in developed countries having to adapt due to low consumer confidence.    Worse, in 2011 the European Union (EU), which is among Thailand’s largest trading partners, officially announced that Thailand was categorized among the countries that do not take actions to eliminate Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing (IUU Fishing).  Even today, Thailand has not been able to free herself from this “yellow card” status.  In the meantime, Thailand has been in tier-2 watchlist when it comes to Trafficking In Persons Report ranked by the US.

“The Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood” (Thai CSO Coalition) is the first-of-its-kind forum for directly affected local people to discuss and work closely with 14 labour and environmental organizations of the Thai civil society’s coalition.   The missions of the Thai CSO coalition are to identify root causes of the problems, to deliver constructive solutions, and to raise awareness of and campaign for the elimination of unsustainable and unethical fishing throughout the production chain, from sea to plate.    The coalition needs to encourage the government and private sectors to change both policies and practices in an attempt to protect labour rights and marine ecosystems, as well as to provide solutions and to play a key role in close monitoring practices at the local level.

In the past, the coalition has noted the efforts of the government and private sectors in solving these issues.  This is good news but the efforts have not been totally successful.  Many problems have not been solved within the timeframe.  Labourers in the fishing industry and local fisherfolk, therefore, have been among the first groups to be most affected.

“The private sector can play a key role in solving problems of the demand-supply chain, with supermarkets as the end of production chain.  Businessmen may not know that products in the markets come from the work of enslaved labourers. However, once they know this, they must join up to end this problem and play a role in changing the attitudes and policies of other business owners,” says manager of the Federation of Thai Fisherfolk Association, Wichoksak Ronarongpairee.

During the “Seafood Task Force”, held in Thailand from 30 January – 2 February with the participation of the world’s leading “buyers” from European countries and the United States, as well as Thailand’s major “exporters”, the coalition discussed, exchanged information and presented solutions to these issues on the evening of January 30. This meeting is the first of its kind in the world to enjoy the participation of both the civil society organizations and private partners in developing strategies to solve the problems at the international level.

Meanwhile, Sama-ae Jehmudor, chief of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federation, added that “to urgently save the marine ecosystems, the coalition proposes two ‘Big Asks’ to the private sector: 1)   to refrain from fishing, using, and purchasing fishery products derived from IUU fishing, trawlers, and from capturing of fish using the light luring method, despite the lack of a legal ban in the Thai Fishery law. Fishery and related businesses will have a traceability system in place that is transparent and effective in ensuring the source and fishing methods of seafood products/ingredients, and enforcing the system with their suppliers. In addition, the businesses shall publicly disclose information relating to their policies and practices on procurement and sourcing of seafood products or ingredients for their businesses.”

Banjong Nasae, chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association,  pointed out that we need to “ban the purchase and use of fishmeal derived from unsustainable and destructive fishing in the businesses’ sourcing of raw materials for animal feed production. Fishery and related businesses shall put in place a fishmeal traceability system that is effective. Their sourcing and procurement must be transparent and allow for monitoring and audit by external parties.  We request that business actors disclose information relating to the proportion of rough fish that is currently being used as a protein ingredient in feed production. We also encourage investment in research and development for protein alternatives in animal feed to reduce the demand for rough fish from unsustainable fisheries.

On the social and labour front, Suthasinee Kaewleklai, coordinator of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) proposed that “ Firstly, the private sector needs to immediately eliminate forced labour and human trafficking in the fishing sector by putting in place measures and codes of conduct for fishing operations to protect the fundamental rights and safety at work for fishing workers”; and importantly, secondly, “to support the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as fair remuneration and decent conditions of work in the fishing sector. This includes supporting fishing workers’ organizations, the improvement of management systems for fair remuneration and decent conditions of work in the fisheries industries.”

Suppliers should elevate the reward and benefits management systems for fishing workers by taking into account that the work in fishing constitutes hardship and hazardous activity. Compensation for working overtime (maximum 3 continuous catches in 24 hours) should be paid to workers. Payments to fishermen should be made through the banking system or traceable alternative methods that can be monitored.

“Just an annual public presentation of each company’s activities in promoting labour rights would be an important step forward in reflecting suppliers’ honesty and commitment to tackling long-term problems,” said Sompong Srakaew, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN).

Following the discussion between the Thai CSO Coalition and the Seafood Task Force (a private sector collaboration concerned with human rights and the environment), the Seafood Task Force concluded that they have the same objectives and agreed upon the main goals.  The coalition was pleased with the reactions of the Seafood Task Force.   However, in the view of the coalition, it is not enough to have mutual goals and it therefore suggested that the Seafood Task Force have a transparent, effective mechanism to listen to voices of affected people and civil society sector.  After the discussion, the Coalition will submit a letter of solutions in detail and request the Seafood Task Force to disclose its plans and timeframes in tacking the problems in order to join hands to sustainably solve the problems in Thai fishery industry.

In this regard, the Thai CSO coalition requested members of the press and the general public to continue to keep a close watch on the efforts of not only the government sector, but also private and civil organizations in being part of the solutions that lead to sustainable development.

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