Blue fishing boats

The Thai seafood sector remains in the crosshairs of consumer, media, regulatory, NGO and brand attention. On the pressure side, the European Union has issued Thailand a yellow card or threat of a trade ban if it doesn’t crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The US State and Labor departments have released reports harshly critical of labor abuses, including labor trafficking risks. The Guardian, Associated Press and New York Times, among others, have published a devastating series of stories describing modern day slavery among Burmese and Cambodian migrants sold to or held by Thai fishing boat captains. Consumers have filed lawsuits against Mars, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé SA and Costco Wholesale for selling slavery-tainted seafood products (farmed shrimp and pet food).

On the response side, the government, industry players and other stakeholders have been moving to address the risks of slavery in fishing. Most of the contributing factors are entrenched and tied up in knotty combinations of economic drivers, porous borders, inadequate legal protections and weak enforcement of those that exist, endemic occupation hazards, murky chains of custody, and significant under capacity to control risk along those chains. Measurable impact will come only from full court press of combined efforts, several of which Verité has joined.

  • Verité is sitting on the Vessel Watch subgroup of the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force, a group of major retailers, suppliers, NGOs, and government actors, to address the linked problems of product traceability and labor trafficking. Verité is providing technical advice on the development of, and how to credibly monitor, a robust Code of Conduct and auditable standards for the vessels, ports and broker systems where most of the risk of trafficking is found. A partial list of the members includes the big retailers Costco, Walmart, Tesco; the pet food brands; the dominant suppliers Thai Union Global and Charoen Pokphand Foods (CP Foods); and World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Justice Foundation. Besides having the ‘right’ players at the table, the Task Force appears to be thinking strategically about the eventual broader application – to other segments, species and oceans – of the strategies, tools and pilot results, this coalition ultimately produces. Watch this space for updates.
  • Earlier this month, in Bangkok, Verité and the Aspen Institute convened the last in a series of stakeholder workshops as part of finalizing a Model Compliance Plan customized for the seafood sector. The tool kit is designed to help companies develop a supply chain management system that will lead to compliance with U.S. Executive Order 13627 – Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking In Persons In Federal Contracts and other emerging legal frameworks. The tools, which are part of an initiative sponsored by U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, will be made public this fall.
  • Verité is collaborating with Tetra Tech on a USAID funded project called OCEANS to improve fisheries management and enhance the health and resilience of Southeast Asia’s marine ecosystems. Verité will conduct field assessments of labor conditions in fisheries in Southeast Asia and provide technical assistance to the project (which will cooperate with business and government) on approaches to data gathering for monitoring and documenting the legality of labor recruitment and labor practices in the seafood sector.

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