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Will An EU Ban On Thailand’s Slavery-Dependent Fishing Industry Make A Difference?

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It is no secret that Thailand is rife with human trafficking. It is the world’s number one destination for sex travel. (Yes, that means people travel to Thailand solely for the purpose of having sex with men, women and children who are trafficked.) Thailand’s fishing industry is also dependent on human trafficking, often using young boys at sea for long periods of time, sometimes working them to death.

Quartz is reporting today that the EU is considering a ban of Thailand seafood because of the industry’s use of slave labor.

The European Union is giving Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, six months to clean up illegal and unregulated fishing or face a ban that would block nearly half a billion euros ($534 million) in annual exports, according to the Associated Press and the BBC Thai Service …

Overfishing in Thai waters is closely tied to rampant slavery and human rights abuses in the fishing industry, which have prompted advocacy groups and the US government to condemn Thailand’s human rights record. The Thai military junta was forced earlier this year to back down from plans to use convicts as forced labor on fishing boats, and it has ordered domestic media not to report on slavery in the industry.

It’s hard to tell from the report here if those behind the ban are more concerned with overfishing and environmental issues, or with human slavery. However, since Thailand dominates the shrimp industry, any type of ban would certainly put a dent in the Thai economy. This will not likely make the situation better for those trapped in human trafficking, as they can easily be sold into another industry. Nor will a ban do anything to temper the real issues that bolster Thailand’s human trafficking industry: corruption and lack of rule of law.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a high-ranking broker explained to the Guardian how Thai boat owners phone him directly with their “order”: the quantity of men they need and the amount they’re willing to pay for them.

‘Police and brokers – the way I see it – we’re business partners,’ explains the broker, who claims to have trafficked thousands of migrants into Thailand over the past five years. ‘We have officers working on both sides of the Thai-Burmese border. If I can afford the bribe, I let the cop sit in the car and we take the main road.

This is a big chain,’ he adds. ‘You have to understand: everyone’s profiting from it. These are powerful people with powerful positions – politicians.’

Until there is enough pressure on Thailand to fix its broken legal system, human trafficking will continue to thrive, EU ban or not.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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