The Thai seafood industry, the world’s third largest exporter, brings in approximately $7 billion every year. In order to keep profits high, labor trafficking is rampant throughout Thailand, luring more than 300,000 migrants – 20,000 estimated to be children under 15 – from Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos with promises of well-paying jobs. These migrants are quick to discover, however, that they will not receive what was promised. Instead, they are forced to work in factories for 16 hours a day or live on unregistered boats far off shore for years at a time, with little to no pay. The Thai government attempted to crackdown on trafficking and was threatened with an EU boycott of Thai-produced seafood imports, but there has been little change.
In 2015, Plan International Finland partnered with Kesko, the second largest retail chain in Finland, to improve the rights of workers in Thailand’s fishing industry. Plan’s partnership with Kesko provides evidence that cross-sector collaboration can have significant impact on improving the lives of thousands and protecting their human rights. By demanding transparency in the supply chain and production process, human rights violations worldwide will diminish. “We have an obligation to take responsibility for the human rights in the purchasing chain of our products,” says Matti Kalervo, Kesko’s Vice President for Corporate Responsibility. Among other things, the partnership with Plan gives Kesko an understanding of the challenges of migrant workers in Thailand and provides Plan with influence in the supply chain, allowing both parties to make larger, more powerful impacts than they would on their own.
The partnership is linked to the Stopping Exploitation through Accessible Services (SEAS of Change) project, which aims to create a fishing industry that is free from child labor and exploitative labor practices, focusing on Cambodian migrant populations working in Thailand. The project invests in education, social protection, building skills of migrant families, and corporate engagement. Improved access to education is essential to ending labor trafficking. When migrants are educated, they can work higher-level jobs and learn that traffickers’ promises of a better life are not true.
Social protection is another strong piece of the picture. Strengthening and enforcing human rights laws in Thailand and neighboring countries will help in ensuring that migrants are not lost in the system, and every child is protected when crossing international borders.
Finally, corporate partnerships allow Plan International to engage labor brokers and demand transparency in the supply chain of fish caught and processed in Thailand.
Since SEAS of Change was launched in 2015, hundreds of migrant children have been reached. In Thailand, two learning centers were established in Rayon and Trat to educate Khmer, ethnic Cambodian, migrant children. More than 500 children, ages 4 to 17, were enrolled in pre-, primary, and mobile education. More than 150 young people are involved in awareness raising and outreach activities on birth registration, which is essential to ensuring children are not put at a higher risk of being trafficked. In addition, in Cambodia more than 2,300 children and youth have engaged in social protection activities, and over 40 children have been re-enrolled in state school.