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Thai Union exec: US, EU pressure crucial in path to end slavery, IUU fishing

There was ‘genuine fear’ that Thailand would be banned as an exporter to the key markets.

As a top international seafood company, seafood producer and processor Thai Union had to be one of the first groups to step up when issues related to forced labor and illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing along the Thai supply chain were raised by investigative journalism reports, and later by authorities in key markets, said one of the company's top execs.

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Darian McBain, global director, corporate affairs and sustainability with Thai Union, told IntraFish at the first day of the Seafood Seaweb Summit that big companies have the responsibility to lead due to their relevance and presence as an international player, but that it is important that good governance is applied throughout the supply chain.

“Unfortunately, there are many small and medium companies that never feel the international pressure that the big ones do,” McBain said.

“The big companies are forced to be the leaders, but then the others should follow.”

Following a The Guardian investigation in 2014 into the Thai seafood supply chain and the Associated Press Pulitzer-awarded investigation “Seafood from Slaves,” international forces such as the United States and the European Commission took matters into their own hands, imposing different warnings on Thai operators.

“While the US TIP [trafficking in persons] report does not look into fishing landings, and the EU card system does not include a social factor, they were certainly looking at each other,” McBain said.

The combined pressure from both importers played a major role in triggering change.

There was “genuine fear” that Thailand could be banned from exporting into either the United States, or the European Union, she said.

“The pressure from these journalistic reports and international NGOs was taken very seriously.”

Still challenges ahead

Although there are still many changes and challenges ahead, Thailand has “one of the best structures in place,” and is a leader in the southeast Asia region in terms of governance, she said.

“Thailand has gone through great strides,” she told IntraFish.

Thai Union has implemented changes across all fishing vessels, and has enabled direct and regular communication for fishers with their families.

“Of course if there was any human rights violations they would, through their families, raise the alarm.”

The approach is to give workers a voice, and to use technologies to bridge communication gaps, obtain an integrated approach, and to better understand what is happening at sea.

“We don’t know where it ends, but if you keep worker voice in mind, if you keep the perspective on what you’re trying to achieve, we can set some clear direction.”

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