Scale of Modern Slavery in the seafood supply chain  

In a report ‘Seeing Slavery in Seafood Supply Chains” in Science Advances Journal 2018 it notes: 

Sixty-five percent to seventy percent of seafood for export markets is produced in developing countries where labour costs are relatively low. For the rural poor, increasing work opportunities in distant water fleets, aquaculture areas, and processing hubs offset decreasing local opportunities for seafood work, but this may require migration and dependence on labour brokers. Seafood is made with a significant incidence of forced labour, child labour, or forced child labour in the seafood hub countries of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Peru. In 2016, widespread forced labour in seafood work was reported in 47 countries, with incidents reported in additional countries, including New Zealand, Ireland, the United States, and Taiwan.1  

Thailand’s multibillion-dollar seafood export industry has been riddled with human rights abuses. Although the government has pledged to stamp out slavery in its fishing industry, there is still much to achieve.  


A report by Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 248 current and former Burmese and Cambodian fishermen as well as Thai officials, boat owners, local activists and United Nations agency staff over a two-year period in all of Thailand’s major fishing ports. 

It documented how migrant fishermen from south-east Asia continue to be routinely trafficked on to fishing boats, prevented from leaving or changing employers, and are often not paid for their work or paid less than the minimum wage. The report found was that although this military government has taken more positive steps forward than the last, the reforms that have been put in place are still largely cosmetic according to Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch in Asia. 


It can be lethal for crew members who irritate their captains. A survey by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that 59 per cent of workers surveyed on Thai fishing boats reported witnessing the murder of a fellow crew member. Accidents are frequent, some serious or even fatal, because of the tiredness of the crews. 


Forced labour is a part of the culture. The workers interviewed described being trafficked on to ships, trapped in jobs they couldn’t leave, physical abuse, lack of food, long hours and awful working conditions. The worst thing for many of them was not being paid – the psychological harm and final indignity was the hardest to bear. 


In 2015 Thailand failed to find a single case of forced labour in inspections of 474,334 fishing crew. Things are improving but it is a low base line to start from and much to do. 


It is five years since damning revelations of traded slaves aboard Thai fishing boats linked to seafood exported and sold by major retailers around the world. A report says that rights violations in one of Thailand’s major export industries continue unabated, including forced labour and widespread human trafficking. Steve Trent, chief executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), who has been working with the Thai government on its reforms, said the focus should also be on ensuring that those selling seafood to consumers take responsibility for ensuring supply chains are free from rights abuses. 


It is not in every supply chain of every retailer in Australia. It is important to at least look for recognised standards and ask your seafood retailer if their imported seafood supply chain has been checked by a third party auditor to see if it is slave free.

Fuzz Kitto, Co-Director STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia.