The Freedom Fund is implementing a hotspot in Thailand aimed at significantly reducing slavery in the seafood industry.
Hotspot start date: January 2015
Since 2015, the Freedom Fund has been partnering with Humanity United on a program to address forced labour in seafood supply chains in Thailand. In 2020, the focus of this partnership broadened to encompass multiple countries in the Asia-Pacific region through grantmaking supporting national, regional and global programs. Our collaboration continues to enable the work of grassroots partners through the Freedom Fund’s hotspot model, whilst simultaneously engaging across the supply chain, policy and governance spheres with retailers, suppliers, multi-stakeholder initiatives, international NGOs and governments to effect change. See Humanity United’s webpage for more information about our partnership.
Thailand is a top 5 global seafood producer, with exports reaping over $6.6 billion in 2019. But the profitable industry supplying consumers around the world with cheap seafood comes at a high cost to both the environment and to workers.
The overwhelming majority of workers in Thailand’s fishing and seafood processing industries are migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Labour brokers recruit from vulnerable communities, promising favourable employment in the construction, manufacturing, or agriculture industries. Migrants often incur debt from their recruitment, fees and costs associated with transportation and securing employment in Thailand. These debts are paid off through deductions from workers’ earnings with employers and brokers frequently using debt manipulation to inflate the amounts and force people into bonded labour.
Read the Thailand Hotspot 2022 Annual Report
Research conducted by the International Labour Organization indicates that up to 1 in 5 migrant fishers are working under conditions of forced labour. While the prevalence of trafficking and forced labour in the seafood processing sector is lower, worker exploitation in seafood processing factories affects a much larger population.
Since the Freedom Fund began working in Thailand, a robust evidence base has formed showing widespread and egregious rights abuses in the Thai seafood sector. These include: wage withholding and debt bondage; inhuman working hours; deprivation of food, water and medicine; intimidation and threats; and physical violence including torture and murder.
Migrant workers in Thailand seeking remedy for rights violations are systematically disadvantaged, and face discriminatory barriers to organising in defence of their rights. For those able to leave situations of trafficking and forced labour, inadequate after-care services and financial barriers often prevent migrants from remaining in Thailand to testify against their former employers.
The Freedom Fund is aiming to reach the following outcomes in Thailand:
1. Seafood workers have better access to sustainable and effective civil society and worker organisations, providing a pathway for collective action and assistance.
2. More seafood workers are empowered to organise, claim rights and demand decent working conditions.
3. Government and private sector are more responsive to the rights of migrant workers, particularly in relation to improving safer migration and freedom of association and implement laws/policies/systems to reflect this.
4. More seafood workers most vulnerable to or affected by forced labour are able to access legal and social services, enabling them to seek redress.
Hotspot Annual Reports: