International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, has announced its third grant awarded by the Walmart Foundation to continue addressing human trafficking, also known as modern slavery, in the Thai fishing industry.
Thailand is a source, transit and destination country for traffickers seeking higher profits by using slave labor. A study funded through the Foundation’s first grant, focused on slave labor in the fishing industry, surveyed migrant fishermen who worked on Thai fishing boats from 2011–2016. The study found that labor trafficking was widespread with frequent patterns of abuse, and the majority of laborers averaged 16-hour working days.
In an environment of isolation and exploitation, paired with a criminal justice system that does not enforce existing anti-trafficking laws or hold criminals accountable, slavery thrives.
Through the second grant from the Foundation alongside a grant from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, IJM has laid the foundation for a long-term regional anti-trafficking program which transcends national borders and requires a response as agile and networked as the traffickers that operate in the Myanmar and Cambodian recruitment corridors. IJM’s local team of law enforcement development, legal, aftercare and case management professionals have proactively developed relationships and credibility with key government agencies and partner organizations, in order to help police build cases against cross-border trafficking networks and ensure that bilateral, cross-border law enforcement and prosecution efforts actually work. Additionally, IJM has bolstered services for survivors returning to source countries, like Cambodia, after exploitation and provided training for partners on victim sensitivity and trauma-informed care.
In May 2019, IJM supported the Department of Special Investigation, Office of Attorney General, and Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in achieving a landmark conviction of a Cambodian national who was a key player within a cross-border trafficking network responsible for transporting hundreds, if not thousands, of Cambodian migrant workers, and selling them to captains and owners of Thai fishing vessels. The court also ordered the trafficker to pay around 500,000 baht in compensation to each victim in the case (approximately US $15,000), and in a precedent-setting decision the Thai government awarded additional victim compensation from the government’s trafficking in persons fund for the first time to survivors residing outside of Thailand, who reported the case from their home country.
In Thailand, prosecutions of cases of forced labor trafficking on Thai fishing boats are rare — and convictions are even rarer. In 2017, the last year in which Thai government data is available, only 2% of trafficking prosecutions in Thailand were in cases of forced labor on fishing boats.i
This is a strong sign of forward momentum in the way that both source countries, like Cambodia, and destination countries, like Thailand, can collaborate in cross-border cases of human trafficking. It serves to build the community’s confidence in the justice system and encourage more victims to come forward to report cases and support enforcement efforts.
“Because of the Walmart Foundation’s investments in IJM over the last several years, there are men who are now protected from forced labor slavery, and a powerful trafficker is in jail. When laws are enforced, ending slavery becomes possible,” said Andrey Sawchenko, Field Office Director, IJM Bangkok. “But, we are never going to achieve systemic, sustainable change without partnerships that span both the public and private sectors, so we are grateful to the Walmart Foundation for positively impacting the entire seafood sourcing industry through their strategic focus on advancing supply chain sustainability and funding support to IJM.”
When corporations encourage rule of law in the nations where they operate and urge the government to enforce existing anti-trafficking laws and encourage robust civil society participation, an enabling environment is created – laws are enforced, traffickers are deterred from illegally sourcing slave labor, capacity to respond and serve vulnerable groups is fostered and businesses can gain more transparency in their global supply chains.
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