Southeast Asian Fish, Fishermen, and Human Trafficking

Here at Just Atonement, we constantly look for connections between events and systems around the globe that relate to issues of international peace and environmental sustainability. As we engage in this effort, we are confronted by one simple truth that reappears over and over again: everything is connected, all the time. So as part of our mission, we work to highlight and reveal the links that already exist but may not be visible on the surface.

With that in mind, we recognize that much of the fish on our dinner plates—specifically shrimp, mackerel, and tuna exported to the US and Europe—originates in Thailand, and these fish have often been captured and processed by workers from Myanmar and Cambodia who have been placed in these circumstances against their will.

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The organization Human Rights Watch recently completed a two-year investigation resulting in 248 interviews with fishery workers, boat owners and government officials, which have now been organized in a 248-page report. The primary conclusion: fish consumers in Britain, the US, Japan, and Europe may be eating fish that have been handled by abused workers and victims of human trafficking.

In 2014 and 2015, after damning evidence of violence and coercion in the Thai fishing industry, the international community responded with various forms of censure; In addition to warnings from Belgium and the UK, the US placed Thailand on a “Tier 1” watch list for human trafficking. The Thai government responded by issuing new regulations, but according to Human Rights Watch, these regulations have not been enforced. As often happens in such cases, official inspections reveal no violations and no cases of forced labor, but interviews with workers tell a different story. In many cases, these workers report abuse ranging from lack of payment to inhumane conditions including physical bondage and violence.

Read a summary of the full report by clicking here.

For more information, ways to get involved, and ways to limit your consumption of fish from unregulated sources, please contact our office.