SAMUT SAKHON – Thai Union Frozen Products , Thailand’s biggest seafood company says it has cut relations with a supplier found by The Associated Press to have ties to human trafficking and forced labor.
The statement Wednesday by Thai Union Frozen Products follows a yearlong investigation that linked severe abuses on Southeast Asian fishing trawlers to dinner tables in the U.S. and around the world.
“Thai Union embraces Associated Press finding,” the company says in a statement that calls the use of slave labor “utterly unacceptable.” Thai Union said the supplier was “terminated” immediately after it was determined it might be involved with forced labor and other abuses.
Journalists followed a large shipment of slave-caught seafood by satellite to a Thai port town, where trucks picked up the fish and redistributed it to dozens of companies, including Thai Union.
Thai Union Frozen Products said in a statement that calls the use of slave labor “utterly unacceptable.” Thai Union said the supplier was “terminated” immediately.
The Wednesday statement did not list a specific company, and Thai Union declined further comment.
The Associated Press interviewed dozens of current and former slaves who were working on trawlers in and around Benjina, a remote island village in Indonesia. Many said they were tricked, kidnapped or sold.
They described working up to 22 hours a day, beatings and, in the worst cases, death at sea. Associated Press journalists followed a large shipment of slave-caught seafood by satellite to a Thai port town, where trucks picked up the fish and redistributed it to dozens of companies and the country’s largest fish market.
Meanwhile the Bangkok Post reported that the human trafficking-fishermen link also set off a fresh tirade against the press by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha against the media. The Channel 3 story on slavery in Indonesia had the prime minister fuming and threatening: “From now on, I will monitor all media and if necessary, I will use my power”.
Viriya Sirichai-ekawat, Chairman of Thai Overseas Fisheries Association, said the association has urged its members to follow labour protection regulations. He added that he believed more than half of the fishing labor force have legal contracts.
The number of the association’s members has risen by 20% over the past year. “We are gradually applying the same standard with accessible information. I believe the problem will be gradually solved.”
An Indonesian official who asked not be named said, “We are establishing the network to repatriate Thai fishermen to Thailand.”
On Wednesday, Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf met Suvat Chirapant, deputy permanent secretary to the Foreign Ministry, to discuss ways to help return the remaining Thai fishermen to Thailand.
– The Associated Press