Modern slavery and people trafficking in Thailand and Ireland
Last month Nestlé of Switzerland, the world's biggest food company, acknowledged that its seafood sourcing in Thailand was from companies that use practices commonly termed modern-day slavery. Also in November, the Guardian newspaper exposed the use of migrant trafficking and forced labour in the Irish fishing industry — this is not an aberration in Ireland as Finfacts has in the past exposed the Irish language school racket where agents in places like India profit from the promise of a better life in Europe.
Thai Union Group Plc, the world's largest canned tuna group and owner of the John West brand, said on Monday that any migrant labour abuse in the seafood industry was unacceptable. The statement was triggered by The Associated Press which reported that shrimp processed in plants using forced and child labour in Thailand was on the shelves in US stores.
"Any illegal or unethical labour practices are unacceptable to Thai Union," the company's chief executive Thiraphong Chansiri said in the statement. "This is yet another wakeup call not only to us, but to the entire industry."
Thai Union, which supplies US retailers such as Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale Corp, said last week it had decided to stop working with external shrimp-processing plants — this move of course had nothing to do with the welfare of migrants.
Last April Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter, was given six months by the European Union to address issues that had allowed fish caught illegally to enter the supply chain.
The Thai military junta is also under pressure after the police chief who had led an investigation into human trafficking in Thailand asked for political asylum in Australia.
Paween Pongsirin was appointed to investigate trafficking networks after the discovery of mass graves at migrant camps earlier this year. Maj Gen Paween said he fled Thailand because influential figures implicated in trafficking wanted him killed.
Maj Gen Paween said that his investigation, which wound up after five months, was halted by influential people in the government, military and police. It had resulted in more than 150 arrest warrants issued but he told the BBC's Newsday programme that "some influential figures were not happy" about the warrants issued. He was reassigned to the far south of the country, and said he feared his life was in danger.
Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic group that is badly treated by the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar (Burma) and last July the Guardian reported:
Rohingya migrants trafficked through deadly jungle camps have been sold to Thai fishing vessels as slaves to produce seafood sold across the world, the Guardian has established. So profitable is the trade in slaves that some local fishermen in Thailand have been converting their boats to carry Rohingya migrants instead of fish. A Guardian investigation into Thailand’s export-orientated seafood business and the vast transnational trafficking syndicates that had, until recently, been holding thousands of Rohingya migrants captive in jungle camps, has exposed strong and lucrative links between the two. Testimony from survivors, brokers and human rights groups indicate that hundreds of Rohingya men were sold from the network of trafficking camps recently discovered in southern Thailand.
United Nations: Child searching through rubbish in a river, Bangkok, Thailand. Children are often forced to live lives of misery, having been lured away from their homes to work in urban centres. Modern-day slavery includes forced labour in sweatshops, mines, factories and work in the domestic and agricultural sector. Credit: ILO>>>>>
The most profitable business in Turkey today is likely smuggling Syrian families across the Aegean Sea to Greece and last week a Syrian father who survived the overturning of a flimsy boat with no life jackets that resulted in the drowning of his wife and seven children, appealled to fellow Syrians to stay at home — BBC report.
The European Union is seeking Turkey's cooperation through money and other inducements to stem the flow of refugees but with so much money involved in the people trade, it's easy to buy the cooperation of local officials.
Last year a young man from Myanmar told me how a friend's family had collected the enormous sum of US$10,000 paid to traffickers through contributions from many relatives, to fund the friend's trip on false documents via Vietnam to Schiphol airport, Amsterdam — the friend was detained as expected but he expected eventually to get asylum there. This year a minimum wage of 3600 kyat ($2.80) for an eight-hour work day was set in Myanmar.
The labour agent is a ubiquitous parasite in Asia, thriving on exploiting poor people. The victims who are most exposed are people who are illegally in a country because they are fair game for extortion by the agents in collusion with immigration officials.
Forced labour in the private economy generates US$150bn in illegal profits per year, according to the International Labour Organisation.
The US State Department said in its July 2015 report on human trafficking that some Thai and migrant workers were subjected to forced labour on Thai fishing boats:
Some migrant workers incur exorbitant debts, both in Thailand and in countries of origin, to obtain employment and are subjected to debt bondage. Traffickers, including labor brokers of Thai and foreign nationalities, bring foreign victims into Thailand. Brokers and employers reportedly continued to confiscate identification documents. Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, and Indonesian men are subjected to forced labor on Thai fishing boats; some men remain at sea for several years, are paid very little or irregularly, work as much as 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, or are threatened and physically beaten...
The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is not making significant efforts to do so. Thailand investigated and prosecuted some cases against corrupt officials involved in trafficking but trafficking-related corruption continued to impede progress in combating trafficking.
The US State Department report says on Ireland:
Ireland is a destination and source country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor — including forced criminal activity. Foreign trafficking victims identified in Ireland are from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. During the reporting period, Irish law enforcement reported an increase in suspected victims of forced labor, forced criminal activity, and forced begging from Eastern Europe, particularly Romania, as well as an increase in potential sex trafficking victims from Brazil. Authorities reported a decrease in suspected victims from Nigeria. Irish children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Victims of forced labor have been identified in domestic service, the restaurant industry, and car washing services. NGOs and press reports indicate Vietnamese and Chinese men prosecuted and sentenced for cannabis cultivation report indicators of forced labor, such as document retention, restriction of movement, and nonpayment of wages. Some domestic workers, primarily women, employed by foreign diplomats on assignment in Ireland work under poor conditions and are at risk of labor trafficking...
Authorities initiated investigations of 79 new trafficking-related cases in 2014, an increase from 56 in 2013. Forty investigations did not result in the identification of trafficking victims, while the other 39 cases involved a total of 46 suspected victims. The majority of suspected victims in these cases were identified in sexual exploitation.
On 2 Nov, 2015 The Guardian reported:
A year-long investigation into the Irish prawn and whitefish sector has uncovered undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian fishermen manning boats in ports from Cork to Galway. They have described a catalogue of abuses, including being confined to vessels unless given permission by their skippers to go on land, and being paid less than half the Irish minimum wage that would apply if they were legally employed. They have also spoken of extreme sleep deprivation, having to work for days or nights on end with only a few hours’ sleep, and with no proper rest days.
Some migrant workers claim to have been deceived and appear to have been trafficked on to trawlers for labour exploitation, an abuse that would be a form of modern slavery.
Our evidence suggests that some boat owners and crewing agencies are smuggling African and Filipino workers in to Ireland through entry points at London Heathrow and Belfast airports, and then arranging for them to cross from Northern Ireland in to the Republic by road, bypassing Irish immigration controls.
Simon Coveney, agriculture and food minister, said on 3 Nov after the Cabinet asked an inter-departmental committee to investigate the allegations:
I am very concerned about the allegations made today with regard to the treatment of workers on board Irish fishing Trawlers, particularly with regard to the safety of the workers concerned.
There was no thank you to the Guardian newspaper or its reporters who broke the story: Felicity Lawrence, Ella McSweeney, Annie Kelly, Mat Heywood, Dan Susman, Chris Kelly, and John Domokos.
As in Thailand, the revelations weren't news to some Irish people or maybe a lot of them!!
Three weeks later the taskforce reported and Coveney approved the issue of 500 work permits for migrants employed in the fishing industry who are from outside the European Economic Area, and they are to be paid the national minimum wage.
Edel McGinley, director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) said according to The Guardian:
We are discouraged by the absence of a strategy to tackle human trafficking within the proposals. We are extremely concerned about the repatriation clauses, where it would seem an employee can potentially be put on a plane without access to legal due process.
Her group was also concerned that there were no safeguards in place for dealing with disputes, and it was not clear if the scheme gave long-term residency rights to workers.
We want to clarify that the scheme does not create a disposable workforce without immigration rights.
In a statement Coveney said the new measures would see Ireland “addressing what is essentially a global phenomenon” and would “greatly reduce the possibilities for the abuse of migrant workers by unscrupulous employers.”
The issue was off the minister's desk that he has sat at for almost 4 years and both he and his officials apparently had known nothing. Besides it's a "global phenomenon."
Ged Nash, minister of state for business and Employment, commented:
I want to commend everyone on the taskforce who have responded with great alacrity to the widespread concerns relating to exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers in a section of the fishing industry.
Nash was also a member of the taskforce. He thanked his fellow members for responding with "great alacrity" but again no thank you for the people who broke the story — without their report the cover-up would have continued.
Finfacts report on fishing industry: Irish fisheries industry and myth of EU stealing our fish
Over a decade ago we reported that an Indian national had told us that he had enrolled in a private third-level college in Dublin, that presented itself as a university, as a cover to work at an IBM facility for the approved maximum of 20 hours per week. He did not attend courses at the college.
The Indian government later refused to accept an Irish trade mission after the collapse of a language school in Dundalk left hundreds of students stranded having paid fees.
The Irish businesses use agents in India and again the lure is not to learn anything but the prospect of permanent residency in the European Union.
Poor people are exploited; they borrow money and have been charged ridiculous fees by language schools even though they may be able to speak English well.
This racket is no different to other forms of trafficking.
Ruairí Quinn, then education minister, said in 2014 that the Government and education authorities were at last moving to tighten regulations in the private education sector, which caters primarily for international students who require visas.
Maybe this area too needs the help of The Guardian to get real action from a taskforce?
Finfacts 2014 report: Irish Education: Overseas students and visa rackets; Private college numbers jump 22%
Pic on top: Locals in Myanmar’s Rakhine state say this waterway near the town of Sittwe is used by people smugglers to load passengers before heading out into the Bay of Bengal. Photo: United Nations - UNHCR/V.Tan
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ) says it has learned from hundreds of Rohingya survivors about horrific abuse and deprivation by smugglers on boats in the Bay of Bengal and in camps along the Thai-Malaysian border, including some who reported they saw people dying from beatings and lack of food.