Fish companies to defend themselves from slavery reports


– Thailand news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Fish companies to defend themselves from slavery reports
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Eight seafood and fishery associations will today reveal their action plan on labour conditions and send a decisive message against the United States’ decision to downgrade Thailand to “Tier 3” in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

The Bank of Thailand and businesses groups have voiced concern over the move, saying it has the potential to hamper the country’s export sector especially the shrimp industry.

The eight associations met yesterday to draw up a ‘roadmap’ as a whole supply chain, in a bid to defend themselves against the report.

Poj Aramwattananont, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said all associations agreed to show the truth of Thai shrimp industry and related industries today.

“We [Thai seafood manufacturers] need to convey correct information to the public after the British newspaper The Guardian and the US accused Thai food and related industries of employing illegal workers,” he said.

90 days before news of sanctions

The eight associations are the Thai Fishery Association, Thai Fishmeal Producers Association, Thai Feed Mill Association, Thai Frozen Foods Association, Thai Food Processors’ Association, Thai Shrimp Association, Thai Tuna Industry Association and Thai Overseas Fisheries Association.

While waiting for the US president’s decision within 90 days on whether to sanction Thai traders, the associations and each company will urgently create understanding among trading partners and agencies.

Mongkol Sukcharoenkana, deputy president of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand, said the association would reorganise the fishing boat and fishing system soon to prevent illegal labour problems.

He also called on government agencies to help solve the problem of “outside” fishing boats. About 20 per cent of fishing trawlers in Thailand are not members of the organisations.

The Guardian report (click here) was not based on facts, he claimed, as the source of its article was a non-Thai fishing boat and not an association member.

Kevalin Wangpichayasuk, assistant managing director of Kasikorn Research Centre, said there was still no sign of recovery in the shrimp export industry, which has been plagued by the early mortality syndrome disease since 2012. Blacklisting by the TIP report had the potential to make things even worse for the fishing industry.

“We now begin to have a shortage of raw materials and our market share has declined from 30 per cent to 19.9 per cent while the downgrade to Tier 3 will lower demand sentiment and further lower our market share,” she said.

Most of Thailand’s market share in the export of shrimp to the US has been lost to competitors including Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Ecuador, she said.

Tackle problem seriously: Prasarn

Prasarn Triratvorakul, governor of the central bank, said the 2014 TIP Report would affect the country’s image and reputation especially during a period of economic recovery. Economic growth may slow down.

However, the country was in the process of making the US understand that there were some industries with labour problems – not all industries. If successful, the private sector’s business would not be affected.

Thailand should tackle the labour trafficking problem seriously, he said.

Though it’s too early to assess the impact on Thai exports this year, export growth for the full year should be lower than 4 per cent, he said.

Paiboon Ponsuwanna, an adviser on the Thai National Shippers Council committee, said the TIP Report had given Thailand a bad image.

The government needed to draw up measures to solve the labour problem for other enterprises though US traders had not banned Thai goods.

Otherwise, it could affect exports in the future, he said.

Primarily, Thai food exports to the US should not be affected by the report, but due to the low supply of shrimp, exports to the US would drop this year, he said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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