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This picture taken on Sept. 20, 2013, shows fish in crates after they were unloaded from a trawler at a port in Pattani, southern Thailand  Christophe Archambault—AFP/Getty Images

Thai Prisoners May Soon Be Catching the Fish on Your Dinner Plate

Jan 15, 2015

Dozens of labor and human-rights groups have condemned a plan by the Thai junta to use prison labor on fishing boats, which are already notorious for violence, human trafficking and slavelike conditions.

The coalition of 45 international organizations has penned an open letter to Thai army chief Prayut Chan-ocha, who has run the Southeast Asian nation since staging a coup d’état on May 22, urging him to end a pilot project that sends prisoners out to sea. Much of the fish, shrimp and shellfish caught ends up on dinner tables in the U.S. and Europe.

“Thailand cannot run from the trafficking problem in its fishing fleet,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, one of the signatories. “And sending prisoners to sea will not address the systematic, pervasive labor problems in Thailand’s fishing industry.”

Currently, migrant workers from Burma (officially known as Myanmar) and Cambodia comprise the bulk of workers on Thai fishing vessels. Systemic abuses have been widely documented with many workers receiving little or no pay, getting traded from boat to boat so they never see land for years, and, in the very worst cases, simply tossed into the sea when they inevitably fall ill.

“Thailand has repeatedly said that it’s committed to end forced labor and human trafficking, but this pilot project heads in precisely the opposite direction and will make things worse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, who also said the initiative “should be immediately scrapped.”

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