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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Something fishy about the Samut Sakhon Covid outbreak – who’s responsible?

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Here are 2 resources for the above story…

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/…

http://www.rapid-asia.com/blog/forced…

Until the weekend many people would have never heard of Samut Sakhon, a province just south west of Greater Bangkok and sharing a provincial border with the capital.

The province is best known as a major hub for Thailand’s shrimp and fishing industry, packed with markets around the coastal tributaries that feed into the Gulf of Thailand.

As we now know there’s been an outbreak of Covid 19 in the province with upward of 1,000 people possibly infected.

Most of the finger pointing, so far, has been aimed at the large Burmese migrant worker community. Some 10,000 Covid-19 tests were underway as early as Sunday and those results are coming through now. The number of positive infections could end up well over 1,000 by the time the whole mess settles down.

Behind this current Covid outbreak is a longer tale about Thailand’s fishing and aquaculture industry. Seafood is an important part of the Thai diet, providing around 40% of the animal protein sources. The export of seafood contributes about 20% of total Thai food exports. It’s also been a hotbed of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing causing some major markets, including the EU in 2015, to slap a trade ban on Thai seafood exports until they cleaned up the industry.

The allegations related to over-fishing practices and, important to the current situation, the employment and treatment of the mostly migrant workforce. Amongst allegations in a recent survey conducted by Rapid Asia, on behalf of the International Labour Organisation, 27% of workers surveyed described circumstances of involuntary work and 12% had experienced some form of coercion.

The survey described at least 10% of the workforce as working under forced labour conditions. The survey covered both the fishing sector and the onshore seafood sector. 90% of workers interviewed reported being paid the minimum wage and others also noted that there were illegal salary deductions.

So, whilst it’s easy to point fingers at the largely Burmese migrant worker community, the following questions need to be addressed as blame is apportioned to this outbreak.

Who organised these workers to work at the markets and port? Who is their employer and pays their wages? Who organised their quarantine (if there was any)? And who organised their travel from the Thai/Myanmar border?

The answer lies in some of Thailand’s largest seafood processor plants and their parent companies, some operating huge franchises and export companies. There have been some high profile cases brought against Thai food processing companies alleging labour rights violations but most of these get dragged through courts and end up with counter suits for defamation. We’ve got links to some of these stories in the description below.

If there is going to be any upside to the current outbreak fiasco, it could be a new spotlight on Thailand’s fishing industry and its labour practices. Even the Thai Prime Minister today said, in a veiled comment, that the blame for the Samut Sakhon outbreak must be shared among the stakeholders. The Burmese migrant workers have become the headlines in this current outbreak but the real cause is decades of poor practices in the recruitment and handling of the migrant labour. The ones profiting most from Thailand’s fishing industry have, so far, not even rated a mention.

Tim Newton reporting for The Thaiger.

 

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    What is the old saying: “just follow the money”

  2. Avatar

    John

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    Cui Bono – who gains from this?

    Pushing China into a corner, ousting Trump, punishment for Brexit and now Thailand – who’s agenda is this playing into ??

    • Avatar

      Richard

      Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 7:32 pm

      Martians obviously

      • Avatar

        John

        Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 10:23 am

        BAT SOUP – LMAO

  3. Avatar

    Graham Smith

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    Doomsday is approaching!

  4. Avatar

    lootarzoon

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Eazy to know, who organize such porus frontiers ? Who staying blind to take the related profits ? Up to the illigal & unchecked workers employers…

  5. Avatar

    Richard

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Great reporting Tim. But I hope you don’t end up like Andy Hall

  6. Avatar

    Mark

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    One thing is certain. The workers themselves are not to blame. Whoever put them in a situation where they were at risk is.

  7. Avatar

    David M

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    The Burmese seem to be blamed for everything negative in Thailand. The bottom line is greed.

    • Avatar

      BS

      Sunday, December 27, 2020 at 11:14 am

      specially now they cant blame us -the farangs – – it is never thais who do something wrong – allways ” the others”

  8. Avatar

    Denis

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 12:01 am

    You write “The answer lies in some of Thailand’s largest seafood processor plants and their parent companies, some operating huge franchises and export companies.”

    You say too much and especially not enough …
    This kind of article looks more like commercial coffee gossip than the result of a real journalistic investigation.
    Come on, take risks … Give names or your writings are just assumptions and conjectures.

    • The Thaiger

      The Thaiger

      Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 9:48 am

      Fair point and well noted. The words were heavily curated based on a number of cases against foreign journalists, specifically over allegations about foreign migrant workers at food processing businesses. We will not take risks with our overall business for a single trophy where we could end up kicked out of the country and the receiver of several costly lawsuits. We are business-people first.

      • Avatar

        Denis

        Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 1:21 pm

        Thanks for your honest response.

        I live in an area where fishing is one of the two main activities. Fish processing industries employ thousands of people. What would all these under-educated people do without these factories? What would become of Burmese workers without fishing?

        We must stop shooting at the ambulance, especially in times of health and economic crisis. And then, Westerners are always there to give lessons to others but they easily forget their millions of unemployed or working poor … Westerners should learn modesty and sweep in front of their doors, before wanting to impose their social and economic models dying to others.

        In Thailand, in 2020, without a diploma, you have a job and you can survive without being assisted. In Europe, with 2 masters degree you just manage to make ends meet or you end up cashier in the supermarket.

  9. Avatar

    John Brown

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 1:13 am

    The Thaiger is to be commended for commission (or permitting, whichever the case) this excellent article. And the courage Tim Newton .

    To a degree these large companies mean nasty business, but one thing which must be understood is the degree to which conglomeration . This isn’t to be understood as an apology or excuse; rather, it is a necessary piece of the puzzle to understand in order to find the solution.

    And we desperately need to solve this.. and need to do it better than Singapore did their parallel issue. For while we may care as little for the collective and individual plights of migrant workers caught in the storm that’s rising, we are unlikely to even have Singapore’s competence in oppressing them as successfully for the benefit of the rest of society.

    A terrible outcome would be needless and xenophobic brutality *and* a failure to contain continual disease escapes from migrant quarantine and isolation zones. Insufficient will to mitigate the former would likely lead to an impossibility to prevent the latter.

    Not that it isn’t already out and beyond contact tracers already (it is)… Nor that the sequencing firmly supports an “out of Myanmar” story for the many cases suddenly popping up in all the 10-20+ provinces, depending how much you believe provincial authorities defying the MoPH in speaking up (test and ye shall find?). But of the strains that have been detected, the Myanmar ones do seem the most infectious (based on the data for now). So it is essential to solve the migrant worker vectors correctly – likely only achievable if also done humanely (not to mention all the other benefits of not treating others like dirt).

  10. Avatar

    James Pate

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 5:27 am

    At least some of the biggest players in the seafood industry cleaned up their act when faced with regulatory scrutiny in the EU & US. (You know who.) It’s the labyrinth of small and medium players not linked to exports who are the likely culprits now.
    My mother-in-law, a reliable indicator of mother-in-laws nationwide, is too scared to buy seafood for New Year’s now, even though we told her there’s nothing to worry about, as long as we follow the rules. Sad.?

  11. Avatar

    Digs

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks to The Thaiger for pointing our noses in the right direction, even if they “will not take risks with (their) overall business”. So, I guess that would rule out any further investigation of (1) whether the human traffickers (of migrant workers) are part of “known organisations”,
    (2) why employers of migrant workers don’t APPEAR to check whether employees recently entered the country, and whether they went through quarantine…
    -and whether the survival of either’s business has some dependency on corruption of border and other Thai officials…?
    Ahh… maybe I’ve just answered my own questions!

    • The Thaiger

      The Thaiger

      Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      Indeed, perfect response where your ‘speculation’ may have already provided some answers… allegedly.

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