A provincial court in southern Thailand has sentenced six people, including the President of the Kantang Fishing Association (Trang Province), to 14 years in prison for human trafficking.
On 17 March 2017, the Provincial Court of Trang sentenced Sompol Jirotemontree, President of the Kantang Fishery Association and managing partner of Boonlap Fishery Limited Partnership (BFLP), to 14 years in jail for violating the 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
Sompol and five other people were indicted for trafficking and abusing 15 migrant workers from Myanmar in 2015.
The migrant workers were rescued by officers from the Department of Special Investigation and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF).
According to HRDF, Sompol and his accomplices forced the migrant workers to work on a fishing boat belonging to the BFLP while holding back their wages. The company reasoned the workers were in debt to it for the costs of migrating to Thailand.
The court ordered the six to pay 1,992,000 baht in compensation to the trafficking victims. The court also fined BFLP 600,000 baht.
The court dismissed charges against four other people accused of involvement in the trafficking, including the boat captain and security guards of BFLP. The court reasoned evidence was inconclusive.
Kanjana Akkarachart, HRDF coordinator, said the ruling has set an important standard for bonded labour cases since there have been few such cases in Thailand.
She added that the verdict reflects the 2017 amendment to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which added debt bondage as a form of exploitation through forced labour.
The amendment was also made to enable compliance with the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons which was ratified by Thailand in 24 July 2016.
In recent years, the harsh labour practices and poor living and working conditions of migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industries have received international attention and prompted demands for systemic reform.
Since the European Union (EU) issued its “yellow card” in April 2015, threatening a ban on seafood imports from Thailand due to its inadequate legal framework for fighting unlawful fishing and poor labour practices, the Thai government has implemented measures to crack down on trafficking and arrested more than 100 people.
Nonetheless, many activists claim that not enough has been done. “Our investigations at sea and across the Thai seafood sector continue to find extensive violence, corruption and abuse,” states Steve Trent, Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an NGO that has been working with the Thai government on the issue.
“Slaves are still on the boats. Nationals of neighbouring states are still trafficked in to provide cheap or free labour. Thai fishing vessels continue to fish illegally and unsustainably, thereby reinforcing the economic incentives to use bonded, forced and slave labour to keep the costs down,” Trent added.
A migrant worker on Thai fishing boat (Photo by Mahmud Rahman)