A more effective inspection regime is needed in the Thai fishing industry, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has said, as EU inspectors assess the sector’s progress in tackling illegal practices.
ETI said the Thai government and businesses must remain “focused on long-term reform” and that if inspectors find reforms are not progressing, Thailand should be banned from exporting seafood into the EU.
The world’s third largest seafood exporter, Thailand was given a formal “yellow card” warning by the European Commission last April for not taking sufficient measures to stop illegal fishing. It was given six months to make improvements.
ETI food and farming expert Nick Kightley said the organisation, which counts several UK companies that source seafood from Thailand as members, welcomed recent progress.
“It is encouraging that shrimp peeling shed activity has reportedly been brought in-house by Thai exporters and with the support of the Thai Frozen Foods Association,” he said. “This shortening of the supply chain should provide a welcome improvement in transparency and should end the culture of very poor working conditions when subcontracted out.”
But he warned companies must ensure they are offering in-house employment to those currently employed in subcontracted peeling sheds, and that workers’ new terms and conditions of employment must meet international standards.
Kightley said concerns remained around fundamental issues such as freedom of association and worker rights, and that while reforms of land-based work were more apparent, conditions at sea were more problematic.
“Oversight is much more difficult for on-vessel activity, not only fishing vessels, but also those that supply services such as refrigerated transhipment vessels,” said Kightley.
Despite new standards, the logistics of monitoring thousands of vessels entering and leaving port, as well as monitoring activity once at sea, was a huge challenge and difficult for the Thai government to implement effectively with its current inspection regime, ETI said.
Kightley concluded the challenge was for the Thai government to set up an effective inspection regime, possibly with civil society and unions in support, to ensure reforms were adhered to.
“That means committing more resources,” he said. “It also means maintaining the political will necessary to drive forward change throughout Thailand’s fishing industry.”