SAMUT SAKHON – The government will target the fishery industry to stamp out the use of trafficked and child labour. Centres will be set up to monitor the use of labor in seven coastal provinces, key ministers said yesterday
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said anti-human trafficking centres would be set up in the coastal provinces of Samut Sakhon, Trat, Rayong, Chumphon, Songkhla, Ranong and Satun.
Mr Surapong yesterday took diplomats from 11 countries to visit the seafood processing district in Mahachai where he explained the measures.
The announcement of the new anti-trafficking measures follows the arrest of more than 800 Rohingya rounded up in three raids in Songkhla province in the past week. Police are investigating whether any were brought here by human traffickers.
Social Development and Human Security Minister Santi Prompat and Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Siriwat Kachornprasart joined the trip.
Earlier, the diplomats, including ambassadors from the US, Germany, Hungary, Finland, and Luxembourg, were briefed by national police commissioner Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew and Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap in Bangkok as to how authorities were tackling the problem.
“Thailand wants to inform foreign [countries] that it is addressing the human trafficking issue and to clear the tainted image portrayed of the shrimp industry by some NGO reports in the US media,” Mr Surapong said.
Thailand has been placed on the Tier 2 watchlist in the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIPs) report for three years.
The ranking stems partly from victims of labour trafficking found in the country’s fishery and seafood industries.
The US is due to review the report in March and a designation for Tier 3 could result in punitive measures.
“We’re doing our best, we are transparent to all. Whenever there is a problem, we address it and we hope the US understands us,” Mr Surapong said.
“Here we open the plant and its related processor to the international community,” said Mr Surapong, referring to Thai Royal Frozen Food, one of the top three Thai exporters to the US.
Diplomats were taken to inspect the plant. The US and German ambassadors did not join the Samut Sakhon trip but their representatives, including a US expert on the TIPs report, attended.
Panisuan Jamnarnwej, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said reports had mistakenly claimed Thai Royal Frozen Food was using trafficked migrants.
“During the past two years, the industry has improved its supply-chain business. Auditing is being undertaken in shrimp peeling sheds against child and forced labour,” Mr Panisuan said.
The diplomats, local and foreign media were also taken to S. Sompol preliminary shrimp processing facility in the same province. The company is a shrimp supplier to Thai Royal Frozen Food.
The association requires seafood operators to do business with its processed shrimp suppliers that comply with anti-trafficking policies.
The value of frozen and processed shrimp exports is between 85-100 billion baht annually.
Of the nation’s 65 shrimp exporters, 50 are located in Mahachai.
Auditing on the fishing trawlers is also under way, Mr Siriwat said.
Fishing boat operators must register migrants they hire on each boat.
Those who do not comply are stripped of their fishery licence.
A foreign diplomat said he welcomed the chance to visit the factories, but said the world hardly knew “what was really behind the nice story” at the show factories.