Thai Civil Society Coalition urges international business parties to resolve contentious issues concerning fisheries, labour, and environmental sustainability.

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

Participants included members of the Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood (“Thai CSO Coalition”), including Banjong Nasae, Chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association; Sompong Srakaew, Director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN); Suthasinee Kaewleklai, Coordinator of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN); and Banjong Nasae, Chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association.

Human rights violations and a lack of sustainability in Thailand’s fishing industry have been hot issues that have remained unresolved over the past year. Unsustainable production practises have a direct impact on the lives of crews and labourers, as well as on environmental disasters. Due to low consumer confidence, large supermarkets in developed countries have been forced to adapt. Worse, the European Union (EU), one of Thailand’s largest trading partners, officially declared in 2011 that Thailand was among the countries that do not take action to eliminate Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing (IUU Fishing). Thailand has yet to be released from its “yellow card” status. Meanwhile, Thailand has been placed on the US’s Tier 2 watchlist for the Trafficking in Persons Report.

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

Previously, the coalition lauded the efforts of both the public and private sectors in resolving these issues. This is encouraging news, but the efforts have not been entirely fruitful. Many issues were not resolved within the timeframe. As a result, workers in the fishing industry and local fisherfolk were among the first to be impacted.

“The private sector, with supermarkets as the end of the production chain, can play a critical role in resolving demand-supply chain problems. Businessmen may be unaware that the products on the market are the result of the labour of enslaved workers. However, once they realise this, they must band together to put an end to the problem and play a role in changing the attitudes and policies of other business owners,” says Wichoksak Ronarongpairee, manager of the Federation of Thai Fisherfolk Association.

The coalition discussed, exchanged information, and presented solutions to these issues on the evening of January 30 during the “Seafood Task Force,” which was held in Thailand from 30 January to 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.” This is the first meeting of its kind in the world to include both civil society organisations and private partners in developing strategies to solve problems at the international level.

Meanwhile, Sama-ae Jehmudor, president of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federation, stated 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 capturing of fish using the light luring method, despite the lack of a legal ban in the country; and 2) to refrain from fishing, using Fisheries and related businesses will have a transparent and effective traceability system in place to ensure the source and fishing methods of seafood products/ingredients, as well as enforcing the system with their suppliers. Furthermore, the businesses must publicly disclose information about their procurement and sourcing policies and practises for seafood products or ingredients for their businesses.”

According to Banjong Nasae, chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association, 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.” Fisheries and related businesses must put in place an effective fishmeal traceability system. Their sourcing and procurement must be transparent, allowing for external monitoring and auditing. We request that business actors disclose information about the proportion of rough fish that is currently used as a protein ingredient in feed production. We request that commercial actors disclose information about the proportion of rough fish that is currently used as a protein ingredient in feed production. We also encourage investment in R&D for protein alternatives in animal feed to reduce demand for rough fish from unsustainable fisheries.”

On the social and labour fronts, Suthasinee Kaewleklai, coordinator of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), proposed that “first and foremost, the private sector must 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”. This includes assisting fishing workers’ organisations, as well as improving management systems for fair remuneration and decent working conditions in the fisheries industries.”

Suppliers should improve the reward and benefits management systems for fishing workers, keeping in mind that fishing is a difficult and dangerous occupation. Workers should be compensated for working overtime (a maximum of three continuous catches in a 24-hour period). Payments to fishermen should be made through the banking system or other traceable and auditable methods.

“A simple annual public presentation of each company’s activities in promoting labour rights would be a significant step forward in reflecting suppliers’ honesty and commitment to addressing long-term issues,” said Sompong Srakaew, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN).

Following a 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 share the same goals and agreed on the main objectives. The coalition was pleased with the Seafood Task Force’s responses. However, the coalition believes that having mutual goals is insufficient, and it has proposed that the Seafood Task Force establish a transparent, effective mechanism for listening to the voices of affected people and the civil society sector. Following the discussion, the Coalition will submit a detailed letter of solutions and request that the Seafood Task Force disclose its plans and timeframes for addressing the issues in order to work together to solve the problems in the Thai fishery industry in a sustainable manner.

Following the discussion, the Coalition will submit a detailed letter of solutions and request that the Seafood Task Force disclose its plans and timeframes for addressing the issues in order for the Coalition and the Seafood Task Force to work together to solve the problems in the Thai fishery industry in a sustainable manner.

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