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Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery
Since the advent of humankind, slavery has been practiced one way or another. The irony is that when social activism is prevalent in the current era of globalization, slavery or modern slavery is practiced across the globe.Sohaib Riaz Khan

The most prevalent case of modern slavery can be well identified in the Thai fishing industry based on the forced labor through exploitation. The UK, USA, and Europe’s supermarkets have been the biggest market for Thailand’s Seafood industry, while the UK is consuming around 7% of total prawns exports from Thailand.

Since the advent of humankind, slavery has been practiced in one way or another. The irony is that when social activism is prevalent in the current era of globalization, slavery or modern slavery is practiced across the globe. It is not that simple to define modern slavery; however, some of the term’s key elements are highlighted below;

  • Bonded Labor: the people are forced into labor while falling into debt and working for free for the lenders to repay the debts. Ironically, failure to repayments of loans or debts enslaves many generations while such practice is still common in South Asia.
  • Forced labor: the people are forced to work for underpayments and occasionally no payments at all. The practice is common when people are trapped in foreign countries while employers confiscate their passports.
  • Forced Marriages: in such a situation, children under the age of 18 are forced into marriages or slavery for sexual or personal services. This is a common practice in South Asia and the Middle East as well.
  • Human trafficking: this is the most prevalent form of modern slavery in which humans of all ages or gender are exploited to work without their will. Trafficking is done in many forms of exploitation with forced begging, prostitution, servitude, criminality, and forced marriage, to name a few.
  • Organ Trafficking: this might be the most inhuman form of slavery in which human organs are removed and sold in the black markets being run by criminal gangs. Although the such practice is not as prevalent as labor trafficking or forced sex practice, its existence cannot be ignored.

The impact of business on business and society is very significant; one out of every 200 people worldwide is a slave. Most commonly, they are forced into labor against their wills or choices. As modern slavery is a term to deal with forced labor through exploitation, the interests are well related to the business entities and modern societies. Modern slavery may refer to a societal problem that has caused global policymakers, including business leaders, to understand its practical application while focusing on its prevention. The movements related to modern slavery have activated business leaders, including human resource management, to address such issues. However, it is ironic that businesses, including the management, most commonly overlook the prevalent dynamics of modern slavery while an in-depth analysis of the supply chain of labor is not incorporated. Modern slavery has not allowed the masses, especially vulnerable people from more underdeveloped countries, to be accepted in modern societies. At the same time, underpayments, inadequate circumstances, and unethical behavior toward them are common. The business entities have failed to address such issues, while the key element to deal with it would be the integrated solutions related to labor supply chain management. Modern slavery is not limited to the third world or under-developed countries; however, it is sad to highlight that such an issue is prevalent in developed societies, including the UK and the USA.

The most prevalent case of modern slavery can be well identified in the Thai fishing industry based on the forced labor through exploitation. The UK, USA, and Europe’s supermarkets have been the biggest market for Thailand’s Seafood industry, while the UK is consuming around 7% of total prawns exports from Thailand. The labor force lives a miserable life around the sea while working hard to contribute to the Thai Fishing industry. The lives of the workers on the small trawlers are very brutal and painful, while such underprivileged humans are mostly non-paid while living in chains and getting beaten regularly. The large corporations that have been the Thai seafood products’ main customers have failed to exert pressure on their vendors, including the Thai Government, to address such inhuman issues comprehensively. Charoen Pokphand Foods or CP Foods, the largest exporter of Thai seafood to the international markets including Europe, the UK, and the USA, has responded to such an issue by claiming that the government’s role has been unsatisfactory this regard prevent such slavery across the seafood industry. CP foods have said that the Government of Thailand cannot ignore the issue while putting pressure on the government to take legal actions against the unregistered and non-licensed companies. At the same time, they ensure to do business with registered and licensed companies. CP Foods sell seafood to many large corporations, mainly in the UK, USA, and Europe, including Wal-Mart, Carrefour, The Co-operatives, Tesco, Morrisons, and Aldi UK. In contrast, each corporation has shown its concern over such an issue while claiming in their responses that they conduct a detailed audit while incorporating the supply chain of seafood. Some responses of the large corporations, including UK’s Tesco, Morrisons, and Aldi UK, are as follows;

  • Wal-Mart: the largest retailer globally, has claimed they are very actively engaged to address this issue while focusing on bringing all the stakeholders together to eliminate human trafficking from Thailand’s seafood industry.
  • Carrefour: another large retailer has claimed that they conduct a sufficient audit of the supply chain process, including the CP factory, to ensure that human slavery is not practiced at any level. The corporation has introduced a secure process since 2012; however, they admitted that they could not check on the complex functions.
  • Morrisons: one of the largest retailers across the UK has focused on taking the matter with CP foods urgently while claiming that the corporation is very concerned about the subject and its findings. Morrisons’ leadership has asserted that ethical practice is mandatory in the trade policy that stops the company from using forced labor and their suppliers and their suppliers’ suppliers.
  • Tesco: the corporation is considered the biggest retailer across the UK and has also claimed that any form of slavery is simply not acceptable to them. Tesco claims that they are focusing on ensuring CP foods incorporate the slavery-free supply chain; moreover, they are partnering with “International Labor Organization” along with “The ethical Trading Initiative” to enforce the changes in the Thai fishing industry.
  • Aldi UK: the retailer has shown concerns over the issue as their contractual terms are written to stipulate the suppliers not involve in any form of forced labor or such inhuman practices. The corporation has made a bold statement by claiming that Aldi would not accept any violation of fundamental human rights.

Many other large corporations have shown concerns over such prevalent issues; however, the claims have not made any justice to the practical actions as forced labor and human trafficking exist across the Thai fishing and seafood industry. The corporations can play an instrumental role in enforcing the whole sector, including CP foods and the Thai government, to eliminate forced labor and human trafficking, which is the modern form of human slavery.

Since its inception, the Thai fishing industry has been engaged in forced labor, with many practices violating human rights, such as child labor and human trafficking. At the same time, most labor is mostly underpaid or sometimes even not paid, facing brutality and punishments. The labor is forced to wear the chains while one meal a day is provided with many other inhuman practices are applied to them. Large corporations, including Thailand and UK, have failed to resolve such a social issue. In contrast, CP Foods, the largest supplier of seafood globally, has put heavy blame on the Thai government while claiming that the government cannot just ignore the issue and its significance on the whole industry. Although many public efforts have been voiced against such a problem to prevent modern slavery in the Thai fishing industry, the Thai government has not taken mandatory actions to eliminate forced labor and other malpractices. The sad part is that the Thai Labor Legislation prevents migrant workers from forming any labor union that may advocate their rights, especially in preventing forced labor and human trafficking (Anonymous, 2018). Thai government stated in the year 2015 that they are taking many corrective measures to prevent human trafficking. It forced labor not only in the fishing or seafood industry but in other industries as well by registering the migrants, labor inspections both at ports and sea, the compulsion of labor contracts, easy documentation while changing the employers, and building more capacities within the leading agencies. The government has claimed that adequate monitoring, including control over the workers, has been improved; nonetheless, it is pertinent to state that there are no robust systems or significant employment practices to deal with such issues. It can be well illustrated that the Thai government is not well equipped to prevent forced labor or human trafficking on a larger scale. Simultaneously, it is sad to claim that the government officials also seem uninterested to resolve this issue, however well aware of the labor slavery in the industry.

The non-interest of the markets has triggered the failure of the Thai government to prevent forced labor or human trafficking to resolve this issue where the fishing industry products are exported. The Thai fishing industry’s main regions supplying the products are the USA, the UK, and Europe. At the same time, it is also sad to highlight that not sufficient measures are taken to prevent slavery in the industry. However, there are some forced actions taken by some governments as the USA has downgraded Thailand to tier three, which is the lowest to deal with the trade policies. Moreover, a warning from European Union has forced the Thai government to enact legislation to eliminate human trafficking and other malpractices related to modern slavery across the industry. The pressures from the legal authorities of the EU, UK, and the USA, including many others, have forced the Thai government to take significant actions. In contrast, many seafood companies, including CP foods, have signed a memorandum to eliminate forced labor in their supply chain process.

Modern slavery is prevalent in the Thai fishing industry, while many malpractices such as human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, and many others are well-identified. Human rights are violated, and many global governance institutions have recorded their concern in the matter. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has looked into preventing forced labor and incorporating fundamental labor rights. ILO has focused on establishing the fishing industry’s basic work standards while forcing all stakeholders to play their significant part. Other global governance institutions such as US State Department and European Commission have issued written warnings to the Thai government claiming the country’s seafood industry’s condition is not decent enough; moreover, the forced labor is not acceptable. European Commission has reported that Thailand’s fishing industry has been responsible for incorporating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) practices, including human rights abuse. US State Department has sanctioned a downgrade to Tier 3 related to the trafficking in-person report. In contrast, European Commission has issued a formal warning with a threat of imposing a ban on exports provided the industry failed to prevent the IUU practices.

The global governance institutions have not played their part at a satisfactory level to eliminate forced labor and human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. The focus must be made to introduce relevant legislation by the Thai government in compliance with the labor rights standards incorporated by International Labor Organization. ILO and all other governance institutions, including the trade unions, must force the Thai suppliers to pay the migrant workers’ full costs while ensuring no reimbursements from the workers have demanded those costs. The international buyers of Thai seafood products must look into the matter. Simultaneously, global institutions must give formal warnings to large corporations to audit their supply chain process while not engaging with the suppliers failing to incorporate the ILO standards. Forced labor and modern slavery are serious concerns for the whole world as the Thai fishing industry has violated fundamental human rights in the current era of globalization, which is a failure for all social activism agencies and global governance institutions. Right actions need an hour not to mitigate but to eliminate modern slavery worldwide, including the Thai industry substantially.


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