Category Archives: Laos

Thai fishing industry makes headway, but challenges remain

In October, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced the suspension of preferential trade policies for Thailand under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which will affect over 500 products, including all of those related to the Thai seafood industry.

The reason cited for the removal, which will take effect on April 25 next year, was Thailand’s failure to adequately safeguard workers’ rights.

Some have cast doubts over the measure’s true motives, suggesting there are political influences involved, but reports in recent months over the poor state of working conditions have shown that the move was not entirely unfounded.

Plight of workers

Lured by the promise of good wages by a broker, 18 fishing crew members set off from Thailand for Iran earlier this year. Everything was smooth sailing until they entered Somali waters when the flag was switched to that of the eastern African nation. The fishermen found themselves trapped as they were not allowed to leave the vessel and had their wages withheld. Their fortunes took a turn for the worse when the ship was running low on fuel and food supplies.

Reports of their being stranded on the fishing trawler under exploitative, slave-like conditions in the seas off Somalia surfaced in the media in August, uncovering underhand practices in the sector.

”Thailand has amended and enforced its laws, but these are trans-boundary crimes. Fishing vessels may not use a Thai flag if there is stringent law enforcement,” Thai human rights activist Patima Tungpuchayakul told DW. She underlined that forced labor and exploitation may not be detected on Thai vessels operating in Thai waters, but on those flying foreign flags.

Thai authorities tend to be unaware of the existence of these hidden fishing businesses as they are registered overseas, meaning there is no domestic paper trail and officials might be ignorant of the labor conditions on board these vessels.

Under the microscope

Over the last five years, Thailand has been heavily criticized following reports of human and labor rights abuses, as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.

In 2014, the US State Department downgraded the country to Tier 3, the lowest rating possible, in the Trafficking in Persons Report, while the European Commission issued a yellow card, threatening to ban Thailand from exporting seafood products to the European Union.

The formal warnings served as a wake-up call for Thailand to overhaul its lucrative fishing sector. Measures adopted include amendments to its Fisheries Law, mandatory installation of vessel monitoring systems, establishment of port-in-port-out centers and increased fines for violations.

Proof of the nation’s progress came when Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2 in 2018 and the yellow-card status was lifted in January this year. In the same month, it demonstrated “crucial regional leadership” by becoming the first country in Asia to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, which ensures that fishermen have adequate working and living conditions, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) executive director Steve Trent told DW.

Lingering challenges

While human rights campaigners say Thailand should be appreciated for its significant progress, they do express some reservations on the implementation of these ratifications in the nation’s legal framework.

Apart from the overseas-registered vessels that spurn fisheries legislation, the Southeast Asian country’s efforts at improving its labor conditions have also been hamstrung by lax inspection and enforcement.

“There is no doubt that Thailand has taken its foot off the pedal when it comes to vigorous enforcement of laws on the fishing fleets,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, told DW. He also highlighted that police and other officials lack basic training to enforce the national anti-human trafficking law effectively.

“The Thai fishing industry remains desperate to get enough fishermen to come on board the boats so they continue to use many tricks to keep those they have,” said Robertson.

Efforts to stamp out wage withholding and deductions for recruitment fees have proven elusive. The requirement for employees to switch to electronic wage payment gives vessel owners and captains leeway to withhold the fishers’ ATM cards and PIN numbers, according to Thai activist Tungpuchayakul.

The EJF corroborated this information and listed insufficient access to electronic payment methods and retention of documents as further examples of continued labor exploitation. It is also worth noting that at present migrant workers in Thailand are not allowed to form or join labor unions.

“To effectively eradicate slavery, human trafficking and forced labor from fishing vessels, a unified regional approach is necessary,” said Trent.

Regional problem

In Southeast Asia, unreported and unregulated fishing remains commonplace. The 2019 IUU Fishing Index, created by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, disclosed that Asia fared worst among all regions, with Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Indonesia among top 15 worst-performing countries. The practice is reflected in the Asia Foundation’s findings that overfishing has put 64% of Southeast Asia’s total fisheries “at a medium to high risk.”

Six Southeast Asian nations — Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar — form part of the world’s top 20 marine-capture fisheries countries, accounting for nearly one-fifth of total catch, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Cambodia is one of the only three nations in the world with the red card status, which temporarily prevents the country from exporting seafood products to the European Union. Its neighbor, Vietnam, has been threatened with the same trade ban due to their “far-flung and out-of-control” fishing vessels, said Robertson. Persistent illegal fishing activities in other countries’ territories prompted the European Commission to hand the yellow card warning to Vietnam.

The Philippines also suffers from IUU fishing — the practice leads to economic losses of more than €1.18 billion ($1.3 billion) annually, according to the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Until 2014, it cost Indonesia, the world’s second-largest fishing country, approximately €3.4 billion each year.

True cost of seafood

Apart from exorbitant economic costs, IUU fishing also poses serious threats to fisheries and is inextricably associated with human rights abuses.

Researchers have observed significant decline in fish populations worldwide. In a 2018 report, the FAO estimated that 33.1% of fisheries are fished to capacity or beyond. Meanwhile, global consumption has increased steadily, climbing from slightly under 10 kilograms in the 1960s to a record-high 20.3 kilograms in 2016.

With demand at an all-time high, depleting stocks due to overzealous fishing force fishermen further out and increase their length of time at sea which, in turn, raises operating costs. This contributes to forced labor, human trafficking and other human rights abuses as unscrupulous owners try to keep up with demand.

“Fuel costs are unavoidable, but labor costs can be modified and distorted. Fishing operations are highly labor intensive, with fishers’ wages accounting for up to 60% of operating costs,” according to EJF’s latest report, titled Blood and Water.

Tungpuchayakul, who has dedicated her life to helping enslaved men at sea, hopes that people focus not only on fish stocks and environmental issues, but also on the laborers’ working and living conditions.

Raising concerns over these practices could go a long way toward eliminating slavery-tainted seafood products. The EJF urges consumers to demand “net-to-plate traceability” and capitalize on their own purchasing power to propel change.

“I want everyone to realize that modern-day slavery exists, and it is the responsibility of every seafood consumer on this planet,” said Tungpuchayakul.

Written by Emmy Sasipornkarn
Source: Deutsche Welle
Published on 14 November 2019

[Thai] Govt urged to aid stranded Thai fishermen

More than 100 undocumented fishing-boat workers from Thailand and neighbouring countries remain stranded on remote Indonesian islands, according to the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN).

Labour activist and LPN manager Patima Tungpuchayakul said a recent rescue operation conducted by the LPN found at least 54 fishermen from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos still abandoned on Tuan Island in Indonesia.

Of the 54 workers, eight are Thai, 44 are from Myanmar, one is Cambodian and one is Lao.

All of them are living under harsh conditions and want to return home as soon as possible, Ms Patima said on Tuesday.

Ms Patima was speaking at a press conference on the LPN’s latest attempts to rescue fishermen marooned on Indonesian islands.

The eight Thai nationals were identified as Satit Northong from Samut Prakan, Somchai Duangmuen from Samut Sakhon, Rat Uttapan from Si Sa Ket, Seree Champathong from Roi Et, Panya Nongnuch from Phetchabun, Paithoon Klinsakul from Suphan Buri, Vichien Sapprasert from Nakhon Ratchasima and Somyon (no surname given) from Nakhon Ratchasima.

Ms Patima said the fishermen are waiting for the Thai embassy to verify their identities, since their documents were kept by boat owners who abandoned them years ago when Indonesia cracked down on illegal fishing in its waters.

Over the past five years, LPN has urged state agencies to help bring back Thai workers from Tuan, Batam and Benjina islands in Indonesia, said Ms Patima.

Batam Island hosts more than 50 undocumented Thai, Myanmar and Cambodian workers, said the network.

“These people are living difficult lives, forced to move from one place to another because of their illegal migrant status,” she said, adding they have to do whatever job they can find to earn money to survive.

Many of these workers died due to harsh living conditions before they got the chance to return to their families, and were buried on the islands, Ms Patima said.

Ms Patima said even though the LPN has rescued nearly 3,000 Thai workers from Indonesia, it still receives distress calls from many fishing-fleet workers still stranded there.

“The government should come up with a clear policy on how it can help them,” she said.

Written by Penchan Charoensuthipan
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 6 November 2019

Protecting Asean’s most vulnerable

The risks are high for migrants who leave home in search of a better future for their families, but nothing can stem the tide of the exodus.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports that the number of migrant workers in Thailand rose to 4.9 million in 2018, which includes around 3.9 million from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Among these are an estimated 300,000-400,000 migrant children.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). All Asean members have ratified the international treaty, which upholds children’s rights to survival, protection, development, and social participation.

Leaders at this weekend’s 35th Asean Summit will adopt the Asean Declaration on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration, according to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

As Bangkok gears up for the historic forum, experts are urging Thailand, as current chair of Asean, to curb child migration amid concerns over human trafficking.


Premjai Vungsiriphisal, a senior researcher at Chulalongkorn University’s Asian Research Centre for Migration, attributes the influx of migrant children from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos to socio-economic deprivation.

“For example, the Rong Kluea border market in Sa Kaeo’s Aranyaprathet district sees a large number of children doing jobs to support their families. From the Western perspective, child labour is unacceptable. However, the children must work to escape poverty. If authorities launch a new crackdown, what are these children going to do? There should be alternatives to law enforcement, such as raising awareness and providing development opportunities for kids,” she told the Bangkok Post.

Ms Premjai said migrant children in Thailand and other countries find doors through which they can escape poverty.

“Myanmar and Cambodia are developing rapidly, which creates a lot of [job] opportunities in urban areas. However, workers have to pay higher living expenses and compete with other job-seekers in cities. It is very difficult for children to find their feet.

“In Thailand, they earn higher incomes and have more opportunities, such as free education. Do you know that a lot of migrant children cross the border to go to our schools each day? If they have relatives here, they can stay with them overnight,” she said.

However, Ms Premjai warned that migrant children are at risk of being exploited.

“They can be forced into prostitution. Traffickers often lure these innocent girls into believing they will work in restaurants. In these cases, we can take legal action because they become victims of human trafficking.

“However, the problem is that some are willing to become sex workers. I interviewed 15-year-old migrant girls rescued from karaoke brothels a few years ago. When I questioned them, they said they knew what they had to do before starting the job. What should we do if it is their choice [to enter the sex trade]?” she asked.

Ms Premjai wants Thailand and other Asean countries to improve border controls in an effort to end human trafficking. “Border checkpoints can screen and repatriate migrant children. However, there are other secret channels [for human trafficking]. If Asean joined hands to develop child welfare among its members, it would help reduce the number of illegal migrants in the region,” she added.

Meanwhile, Wanchai Roujanavong, chair of the Asean Commission on Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, said verification of migrants remains a challenge.

“It is very difficult to screen them because they don’t have identity cards. They can lie about their ages to get jobs. In some cases, they bribe local authorities to forge birth certificates for passport application,” he said, citing the arrests of underaged migrant workers at massage parlours.

Mr Wanchai also proposed that Asean members uphold a single standard for detention of illegal migrants and their children. “Thailand has already changed its practice. Migrant children are now kept in separate shelters while awaiting repatriation,” he said.

Thientong Prasanpanich, director of Children and Youth System Development at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, said Thailand is beefing up cross-border collaboration with neighbouring countries.

“Although Asean members adopted the CRC, they implement policies and laws on child migration differently. Hence, it is difficult for home and host countries to work together. However, we are making progress this year. For instance, Myanmar is showing strong commitment to boosting coordination with us,” she said.


Ms Thientong admitted that Thailand is facing difficulty ensuring that all migrant children can access public services, especially education and health care.

“Thailand’s education-for-all policy welcomes migrant children. However, illegal migrant parents fear that if they enrol their children in school, they will be prosecuted for sneaking into the country. Therefore, many kids remain out of school,” she said.

Last year, Thailand’s IOM Mission estimated that more than 164,000 migrant children are enrolled in school, while around 200,000 get no formal education.

“Thais are entitled to the 30-baht health scheme because they pay tax. Migrant workers are required to purchase their own healthcare package, which covers their children,” she said.

When asked about other categories of children on the move, Ms Thientong said Thailand still has a reservation to Article 22 of the CRC relating to rights of child refugees and asylum seekers. “We cannot remove the reservation because we don’t have a law on the status of refugees.”

However, Thailand’s treatment of migrant children has improved since it adopted the CRC in 1992, she added.”The immigration law regards them as innocent even though their parents migrate to Thailand illegally…. The child protection act ensures protection for Thai and non-Thai children while the civil registration act offers registration of birth to anyone born in Thailand.”

Ms Thientong reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promoting all children’s rights to public services. “Migrant workers are a driving force of the bloc’s economy. It is impossible to ignore their children’s living conditions. Most importantly, we see them as citizens of Asean,” she said.

Written by Thana Boonlert
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 2 November 2019

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar join hands in protecting migrant workers

Phnom Penh (VNA) – Officials from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar gathered at a two-day interior ministerial-level meeting in Seam Reap province, discussing measures to protect migrant workers from each nation.

Cambodian Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on October 31 after the meeting concluded that the three countries would raise the issue with Thailand, which receives the most migrant workers in the region.

The three countries are neighbours who have similar cultures and share borders with Thailand, he said, adding their residents have moved to Thailand for working, and some of them have faced difficulties throughout their journey, from the day they leave for work until they return.

He stressed citizens from each country have the right to find a job overseas, and each government has an obligation to protect them through cooperation with the destination nations.

To this end, it was necessary for the three countries to pool initiatives before consulting Thailand about the issue.

Meanwhile, Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, head of the Secretariat of the National Committee on Anti-Trafficking in Persons under the Lao Ministry of Public Security, said the Lao Government is facing the issue of cross-border migration, especially there is a sharp increase in the number of Lao workers in Thailand.

Kristin Parco, head of mission at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Cambodia, said the trilateral meeting was vital for the three countries to address various issues, comprising human trafficking and challenges in the fishing industry.

The IOM will continue facilitating negotiations for competent sides on the issue, she added.

Source: VNA
Published on 1 November 2019

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar tackle migrant worker safety

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng met his Lao and Myanmar counterparts on Wednesday to discuss ways to strengthen the protection of migrant workers from each country.

Speaking during a two-day technical-level meeting in Siem Reap province, Sar Kheng said after this second round of discussions to exchange ideas and experiences, that the three countries will raise the issue with Thailand, which receives the most migrant workers in the region.

“The three countries [Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar] are neighbours who have similar cultures and share borders with Thailand.

“A large number of our citizens have gone to work there, legally and illegally. Some of them have faced problems throughout their journey, from the day they leave for work until they return,” he said.

Sar Kheng said citizens from each country have the right to find a job overseas, and each government has an obligation to protect them through cooperation with migrant worker-receiving countries.

However, he said that as migrant worker-sending countries, the three governments could not exert pressure on Thailand and would instead work together to reach a consensus on an effective mechanism to protect workers.

“Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are joining hands to pool ideas before consulting Thailand. We want to help it resolve numerous issues that are the subject of criticism by the international community, such as those involving workers in the fishing industry.

“Please don’t think that our countries are joining hands to take advantage of Thailand or cause any trouble for it.

“Although the three countries have found common ground over the issue during this meeting, we still cannot put it up for discussion directly with Thailand.

“After reaching a consensus at this meeting, we will hold a technical-level discussion with Thailand first, and after an agreement has been reached, [leaders of] the four sides can officially meet,” he said.

Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, head of the Secretariat of the National Committee on Anti-Trafficking in Persons under Laos’ Ministry of Public Security, said his government had also been facing the issue of cross-border migration.

He particularly noted the exploitation of Lao workers in Thailand.

“This trilateral discussion is important for the governments of the three countries that have sent a lot of migrant workers. This provides us with an opportunity to join hands to resolve the challenges we face and to seek a proper solution,” he said.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration adopted in Morocco in December last year stipulates that member countries have to promote the implementation of migrant worker protection against all forms of trafficking and exploitation at all steps of migration.

In November 2017, Asean member states also signed a unanimous agreement and approved the Law on Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers to boost the effectiveness of migration job governance.

Kristin Parco, the head of mission at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Cambodia, said the trilateral meeting was vital for the three migrant-worker-sending countries to address numerous issues.

These include human and sex trafficking and challenges faced by workers in the fishing industry, among others.

She said IOM will continue its efforts to facilitate dialogue among the relevant parties.

“We should carry out more operations in order to have an important role in migration tasks through governing law and labour standards.

“This is because migration mostly exists in the region which requires cooperation in a global and regional manner in order to reach implementation in 2030.”

Written by Long Kammarita
Source: Phnom Penh Post
Published on 30 October 2019

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