Thailand is the world’s third largest seafood exporter. But it struggles with worker exploitation within its fishing fleet and on-shore seafood processing sheds. That includes human trafficking and slave labour.
Thailand’s seafood sector
With over 3,200 kilometres of coastline, Thailand is one of the top fish producing nations in the world and is the world’s leading exporter of shrimp.
Fishing and seafood processing is a major industry. It is also highly profitable with Thailand supplying many US and European retailers with cheap seafood.
€7 billion - Thailand’s total export revenue from the seafood sector.
€642 million - The value of European Union seafood imports, of which the UK is the largest importer.
650,000 - Workers employed in Thailand’s fishing fleet, freshwater aquaculture and seafood processing sheds.
71,000 - The official number of migrant workers. But the number of irregular migrants is estimated to be much higher, particularly in Thailand’s fishing fleet.
Why we and our members set up the Thailand seafood working group
Thailand’s seafood export industry is built on the back of a mainly migrant workforce recruited from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
In 2012, following increasing concerns about conditions of employment and reports about the systemic abuse of workers, ETI and its members set up a working group to address worker welfare and rights.
Although it has since raised its rating to "tier 2", concerns were further confirmed when the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to its "tier 3" of worst offenders for human trafficking in 2014.
Similarly, the European Union issued Thailand with a "yellow card" warning notice in 2015 for failing to clamp down on problems in its fishing industry. That “yellow card” remains in place.
While exploitation occurs throughout the seafood sector, conditions on fishing vessels are the most disturbing with numerous media reports of a brutalised and underpaid labour force, particularly on Thai vessels operating in international waters.
How we are tackling poor employment practices
Our response emphasises engagement with key local and international stakeholders – including workers’ representatives, Thai companies and the Thai government. We bolster industry collaboration and share knowledge in order to drive change.
- We support the Issara Institute’s work to advance freedom, choices and opportunities to those who need it most, from peeling shed workers to stranded and abused fishermen. And we have encouraged our members to become business partners and fund its work, including a telephone hotline, compensation for exploited workers and advice to companies on their employment practices.
- We support the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Taskforce, advising on worker rights, codes of conduct, and company implementation and compliance issues. And we help co-ordinate the EU Buyer Reference Group and its support for the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Good Labour Practices project, “Combatting Unacceptable Forms of Work in the Thai Fishing and Seafood Industry”.
Thai seafood working group membership
Membership is open to ETI members, and to non-members by invitation only.
Retailers and suppliers
NGOs and trade unions
Direct Seafoods London
International Transport Workers Federation (ITF)
Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Hannah Bruce, Head of Global Partnerships