It’s almost inevitable to walk into a 7-Eleven shop while in Thailand. The major company behind 7-Eleven, which on average opens two new stores every day in Thailand, is Charoen Pokhand Foods, abbreviated to CP Foods. The company that also names itself as the ‘’Kitchen of the World’’ is part of the CP Group.
CP Foods operates integrated agro-industrial and food business activities, including aquaculture and livestock such as shrimps, fish, layer, ducks, pork and broilers (young chickens bred for meat production). It reported to have a net profit of 157.7 million USD in 2016. The company is divided into three categories: farm, feed and food. Their products are processed into ready-to-eat foodstuffs and distributed and exported to 30 countries spread over 5 continents. CP Foods’ production process starts from production of animal feed, breeding and farming of animals and processing of meat which will eventually be prepared to be cooked or semi-cooked.
During my ten weeks stay as an exchange student in Bangkok I got the opportunity to attend a presentation of the CP Group, which was held in the CP All academy building where I often have class. The presentation was obviously well prepared and tactically ended with a gift game. A promotional video including thousands of broiler chickens on a small piece of land triggered me to do some research into the activities of CP Foods. I quickly ended up at the supply chain and discovered something remarkable that made me sad for a moment…
This blog will be focusing on the issue of Thailand’s 7 billion USD seafood industry, revealing their dark side.
While investigating, a 6-month research of The Guardian came forward about Thai fishing boats manned with slaves. It appears that CP Foods buys fishmeal for their home-grown shrimps. The export of these shrimps is 90% of 500,000 tons per year. The Guardian investigated slave ships that were responsible for catching inedible fish, suitable for preparing fish meal. You already guess where CP Foods’ fish meal comes from?
Enough reasons to critically look at the working conditions in this Thai seafood industry.
Where do those slaves come from?
90% of employees in the Thai seafood industry come from abroad, of which most migrant workers are from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. They are lured from their countries with the promise of a job that will be well paid. Human traffickers respond smartly to the needs of these people. In particular countries like Cambodia where employment is very low and the currency devalued, it makes it attractive for men to go along with the promise of better work and better living conditions. However, upon arrival at the Thai seafood industry, the trafficked migrants are often tied to debts. The migrants are forced for the reimbursement of fake documents. There is no official report on the number of slaves in the Thai seafood industry, however in 2014 the Thai government made an estimate that 90% of the 300,000 employees are migrants, most of whom fear to be sold at sea to really work as slaves.
90% of the 300,000 employees are migrants, most of whom fear to be sold at sea to really work as slaves.
The large demand for labour migrants in the Thai fish industry, which is due to a large shortage of laboures, has increased in recent years. In addition, the demand for cheap shrimp from Europe and U.S. has also increased enormously, as a result of which the need for the cheapest workers has increased. When conditions improve for migrants through better wages, it could be the case that the Thai export seafood industry will collapse.
However, what exactly are the harsh conditions experienced by labor migrants and slaves in this industry?
Harsh working conditions for work migrants and slaves
The following bizarre circumstances that have been experienced by slaves in the Thai seafood industry are described below:
- Slaves make 20-hour workdays.
- Some of them are kept at sea for years.
- Lack of drinking water and food.
- Even when working hard, they are regularly beaten by their employer.
- Slaves are resold on ships for an average of 14,000 TBH (430 USD), but not paid.
- Amphetamine is sometimes given to these people to make them psychologically quieter.
- Boat owners pay monthly bribes to the Thai police due to undocumented laborers.
- In case of insufficient hard work, slaves are killed in front of other slaves and are left in sea.
However, many fishing boats are falsely registered in the name of a boat that does have legal workers, so it is difficult for organizations to trace them.
(Environmental Justice Foundation, 2015)
You can consider that these migrants workers are facing fear to die. This is horrible and unethical and there should be a way to stop it!
In my opinion, addressing the problem can start by stopping the trafficking of people from Cambodia and Myanmar. To combat human trafficking, the government of Cambodia and Myanmar can make the request of passports more accessible to its citizens. It often takes months before a passport is ready and, in addition, it costs a lot of money, which prevents citizens from making an application (Kijewski, 2017). By making passports cheaper and more accessible, it is legal to travel outside these countries and it becomes more difficult for traffickers to operate.
In addition, The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) was established with the aim of protecting people at sea from exploitation and torturing. This organization designs strategies combat slave labor overseas. By increasing brand awareness, they strive for more attention and approach to this problem. These organizations are essential in these situations, but more importantly, the Thai government must be less lax in its inspection policy. Several reports from NGOs such as: Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Human Right Watch showed that Thai government have devoted insufficient effort to address human trafficking.
Moreover, since 2015 the European Union has imposed sanction as form of a ‘yellow card‘, because the Thai government did do not much about tackling this illegal industry. As shown in the table below, a boycott of the EU could have resulted in large loss of revenue.
Fortunately, since EU’s warning, the Thai government implemented an enforcement act (IUU) for preventing human trafficking and modern slavery. As a result, better registration systems have been implemented to trace illegal fishing.
However, the strict regulations did not make the situation any better, the ships were moved elsewhere at sea to be able to continue.
CP Food stated that it was surprised about this illegal supply chain. According to them, the correct way of solving was to influence the Thai government instead of getting out of this fish industry.
With this statement, you can question whether this is not partly related to CP’s own interest. At the end, the problem seems not to be resolved, now I can only ask you to be aware of this modern slavery and perhaps I can encourage you to eat less fish from Thailand!
- Charoen Pokhand Foods Public Company Limited (2015). Annual Report 2015 of Charoen Pohhand Foods. Retrieved from: https://www.cpfworldwide.com/en/investor/financial-information/annual-report
- Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company Limited (2017). Annual Report 2017 of Charoen Pokhand Foods. Retrieved from: https://www.cpfworldwide.com/contents/investors/download/annual-review/CPF_Annual_Review_2017_ENG.pdf
- Environmental Justice Foundation. (2015). Pirates and Slaves, How Overfishing in Thailand Fuels Human Trafficking and Plundering of Our Oceans; Slavery in Thailand Fishing Industry. P 21-26. Retrieved from: http://un-act.org/publication/view/pirates-slaves-overfishing-thailand-fuels-human-trafficking-plundering-oceans/
- Figure 1: Arkkarayut, P. (22 July, 2015). The EU yellow card is a wake-up call before trade sanctions. SBC. Retrieved from: https://www.scbeic.com/en/detail/product/1437
- Hodal, K. & Kelly, C. (10 July, 2014) Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/10/-sp-migrant-workers-new-life-enslaved-thai-fishing
- Kijewski, L. (19 July, 2017). As region cracks down on migrants, agencies provide costly, illegal passport service. The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved from: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/region-cracks-down-migrants-agencies-provide-costly-illegal-passport-service