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Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and partner organizations in the Seafood Working Group (SWG) are calling on the Biden Administration to ensure U.S. companies do not import fishing nets made by Thai companies that use forced prison labor. 

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In a petition submitted to the U.S. government, the organizations say that two Thai companies – Khon Kaen Fishing Net Factory Co., Ltd. (KKF) and Dechapanich Fishing Net Factory Ltd. (Dechapanich) – have made fishing nets under exploitative conditions in Thai prisons. They are calling on the U.S. to investigate and block these companies from selling nets to U.S. corporations. 

The groups submitted the petition following an expose by Thai journalist Nanchanok Wongsamuth on the working conditions in Thai prisons, which use inmates to fulfill high-value contracts with Thai companies. Prisoners said that they and hundreds of other inmates were forced to make nets for less than Thai minimum wage if they were paid at all. Prisoners also said they had no protective gear, sustained painful blisters and cuts as they were pushed to meet quotas and were beaten or tortured if they refused to work. 

Seafood giant Trident Seafoods, as well as Calusa Trading Co., H. Christiansen Co. (Duluth Nets), and Gramter International USA have purchased fishing nets from KKF, and Fitech International Inc. has bought Dechapanich fishing nets, according to records in an international trade database.

The SWG is calling on Thai and U.S. seafood companies to commit to responsible sourcing and transparency in their supply chains. The global fishing industry is rife with abuse and Thai and international labor rights groups will continue to use all means at their disposal to end forced labor and raise standards for all workers in the industry. 

“This is just one of many examples of how multinational corporations scour the globe to source the lowest-priced products, but absolve themselves of responsibility for the human rights abuses their race to the bottom engenders. We’re calling on U.S. companies to ensure that their suppliers respect workers’ rights and for the U.S. government to ban the import of these nets and all products found to be made with forced prison labor or forced labor of any kind. No worker – including prisoners – should be subjected to forced labor,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. 

Thai and international civil society organizations have put together recommendations to the Government of Thailand, the Thai fishing net companies, and U.S. buyers to address abusive working conditions in prisons and to end forced labor in global supply chains.

Background on Thai fishing net production

According to interviews with several former prisoners who made fishing nets for KKF, Dechapanich, and other companies, and who witnessed hundreds of other prisoners make nets inside the prison and at company factories, prisoners were required to undertake the work without choice. They were paid a fraction of the minimum wage or nothing at all, performed the work in overcrowded facilities, and sustained painful blisters and cuts from the sharp fibers due to lack of protective gear and being pushed to fill unreasonable quotas.  

Those who were unable to meet high production quotas or refused to undertake work faced various forms of physical punishment and torture. One former prisoner explained, “For some prisoners who were more stubborn about doing the work, they were forced to lie down on the hot concrete road, in the sun, without a shirt and had to roll back and forth. Some were also beaten by batons. They had either refused to work at all or couldn’t meet the quota [for fishing nets].” Some prisoners had to go to the hospital outside of the prison because they suffered serious injuries, such as a broken arm or leg. 

Prison officials also used the threat of delayed release to compel prisoners to work and repeatedly informed prisoners that they have no rights and that there is no use in filing a complaint. A different former prisoner said, “There was no agreement or contract about wages between the prisoners and the prison. They didn’t explain anything. We had to learn from fellow prisoners. You have to understand this was a ‘twilight land’. They did not look at you as a human being.” The testimonies provide strong evidence of forced labor per U.S. law and the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s indicators of forced labor. 

Thailand has a long history of labor exploitation in its prison system, which human rights organizations and the media have reported on in recent years, including the prevalence of punishment and disciplinary measures used against prisoners that could amount to torture. The Thai government has continued to try to hire prisoners in order to fill labor shortages in recent years. This has included a failed policy proposal by the Ministry of Labor in 2015 to recruit prisoners to work on Thai fishing vessels, which are widely known for their rampant human rights abuses. More recently, in 2021, Thailand’s Minister of Justice proposed building industrial estates where companies can hire prisoners to work in seafood processing factories to fill labor shortages arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and to facilitate prison decongestion.

Thailand has struggled to eradicate forced labor from its highly profitable commercial seafood industry. In 2021, Thailand was downgraded to ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for ongoing forced labor of migrant workers particularly in the fishing sector. Thai seafood companies and U.S. buyers, too, have developed numerous initiatives to end forced labor in the Thai seafood industry, yet abuses are reportedly ongoing

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