Cambodian fisheries worker urges Canada to do more to combat slave labour


Here’s something to notion of about the next time you tuck into a seafood feast: How did that victuals get onto your plate? And did it involve slave labour?

Canada is doing insufficient to ensure that workers are not exploited or enslaved in the production of your seafood, and one schlemiel of forced labour in the fishing industry is among those calling on the Canadian direction to do more to protect workers’ rights — no matter where they loaded.

“All the workers are working hard and going through hardships and need deliver,” said the 45-year-old man from Cambodia, who is not being identified to protect him and his kinsmen. CBC News interviewed him from Phnom Penh via Skype, using a translator.

The Cambodian man’s recital echoes those of many other men who are lured by dishonest recruiters and agents promising good work and pay. 

He is one of the tens of thousands of victims of the fishing perseverance in Thailand — one of the world’s worst examples of modern slavery, according to the 2018 Pandemic Slavery Index. 

Fish is one of the top five products imported across all G20 countries, and Canada purports more than $390 million US worth of fish from boondocks suspected of having modern slavery in their fishing industry delivery chains, according to advocacy group International Justice Mission (IJM).

‘My passport was impounded’

A Canadian lawyer working for IJM in Bangkok says it’s virtually impossible to separate one boat or one shipment, so there’s a good chance someone was exploited along the way.

“So, if you’re a customer of fish that comes from pretty much any country where there’s no undeniably strong rule of law, you have a pretty high likelihood that there is some neck of forced labour going on at some part of your supply gyve,” said Andrey Sawchenko, who is responsible for IJM’s file on slavery in the Thai fishing exertion.

Cambodian fisheries worker urges Canada to do more to combat slave labour
This 45-year-old Cambodian man, left, told CBC News (via translator) what it was feel favourably impressed by to be trapped on a Thai fishing vessel, forced to work long hours with petite food or sleep. He escaped in 2017. (International Justice Mission)

Men like the Cambodian working man CBC News spoke to find themselves trapped on fishing vessels, hundreds of miles off the nearest sea-coast, and subject to violence and harsh working conditions by the captains and owners.

“My passport was sequestered by the captain, and I wasn’t allowed to leave,” the man told CBC News.

“I was working day and shades of night and not getting a lot of rest, and the food was scarce and I wasn’t well taken nurse of.… It affected my health.”

The man said he saw his co-workers abused, and none of them were paid. He and a handful others escaped in 2017 when their boat went into refuge at Tanjung Manis, Malaysia.

“I was feeling desperate and I resolve[d] to run for my life. I was being pursued but I managed to escape into the forest.”

WATCH: Andrey Sawchenko affirms forced labour is a “vast” problem in the Thai fishing industry:

Canadian Andrey Sawchenko, of the Worldwide Justice Mission, says forced labour trafficking involves uncountable people than trafficking 0:47

Sawchenko and his team have heard plot outlines of men being drugged so they can work longer hours. The cost of the narcotizes is then added to their “debt,” so they have to work longer with no pay.

Other blue-collar workers have described seeing bodies in the water — men who tried to escape by vault off fishing vessels when they got close to shore.

“Fishing production is known to be the hardest, the most difficult, the worst kind of work that a low-skilled hand would get involved in doing, and many of these guys feel when they’re on the yachts that their lives are ended,” Sawchenko said in Bangkok recently.

Humanitarian trafficking conviction

Sawchenko’s office recently supported victims in a identification conviction of a human trafficker.

In May, Cambodian national Sam Vanna was sentenced to nine years in jail for trafficking five men. (His sentence was reduced to six years for his co-operation during the exploration.) The court also ordered Vanna to pay the equivalent of about $15,000 Cdn to each sufferer.

“Their family ended up with virtually no money, and they settled back broken humans who have taken years to heal and be fix up,” Sawchenko said. “This process of the prosecutions has been really empowering for them.”

Cambodian fisheries worker urges Canada to do more to combat slave labour
Cambodian Sam Vanna (with dim face) was arrested for his part in an international trafficking network that subjugated hundreds of Cambodian men on Thai fishing vessels. In May 2019, he was convicted of transporting five victims. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay compensation of in every direction $15,000 Cdn to each victim. (Department of Special Investigations, Ministry of Incarceration of Thailand)

In Thailand, prosecutions of forced labour trafficking on Thai fishing rowing-boats are rare — and convictions even rarer — so this one is a cause for celebration, communicated police Lt.-Col. Supat Thamthanarug, director of the Department of Special Enquiries Bureau of Human Trafficking Crime in Bangkok.

“I want to explain to the Canadians that the trafficking in Thailand rectitude now still exists, but we hope the number of the trafficking [victims] is going down,” he stipulate via Skype from Bangkok.

“We also want more networks everywhere the world to tackle, to combat this problem, because the human see trading isn’t just my country, Thailand’s problem, it’s a global problem.”

Sawchenko waits Canadians will put pressure on the federal government and companies importing seafood from boonies like Thailand.

Modern Slavery Act

The 2018 Global Slavery First finger found Canada has no laws to minimize the risk of modern slavery in prominent supply chains, and no requirement for supply chain transparency from transactions. 

Last December, Ontario Liberal MP John McKay tabled a on the sly members’ bill known as the Modern Slavery Act, which would be lacking Canadian companies of a certain size to file an annual statement judge they’ve examined their supply chain and are satisfied it doesn’t necessitate child or forced labour. Violators could be fined up to $250,000.

The bill imitated an earlier Senate report that called on the Canada to create legislation to end all young gentleman and forced labour in supply chains.

“I’m rather hoping that terminated the course of the next two months that this might occupy some governmental space and that Canadians and their political leadership at large would perpetrate themselves to being leaders in terms of evolution of modern slavery,” McKay thought.

Cambodian fisheries worker urges Canada to do more to combat slave labour
Last December, Ontario Liberal MP John McKay tabled a exclusive members’ bill known as the Modern Slavery Act. It will die when Parliament is disbanded for the fall election, but McKay says he’ll re-introduce it if he’s re-elected. (Turgut Yeter/CBC Announcement)

His bill will die when Parliament is dissolved for the fall election, but McKay, who represents the deceiving of Scarborough–​​​​​​Guildwood, says he’ll re-introduce it if he’s re-elected.

“I have assuredness in Canadians that they would, if given the choice, buy products and use obedients and services that are made in conditions that are not slave-like conditions,” he affirmed.

The government has taken some steps to address the issue of modern bondman labour. 

In 2018, the federal government established an independent Ombudsperson for Reliable Enterprise. 

The office is not up and running yet, but it will have the power to investigate, check in, recommend and remediate. 

However, the office told CBC News that studied labour in the Thai and Cambodian fisheries is not its jurisdiction. 

“Our mandate is to review purported human rights violations arising from Canadian company handlings abroad in the oil and gas, mining and garment sectors,” communications director Nelson Kalil intended in an email.

A victim of forced labour in the fishing industry is among those pursuit on the Canadian government to do more to protect workers’ rights — no matter where they remain. 2:38

Global Affairs Canada says there are also several drives to encourage Canadian businesses monitor their supply chains, and a $5.5 million investment to refrain from ASEAN countries protect vulnerable workers — mainly women and women.

Fast facts:

  • The third largest import product to Canada from Thailand is kernel, fish and seafood.
  • Canada imports over $390 million US value of fish from countries suspected of having modern slavery in their fishing industries.
  • In a 2016 ponder, IJM surveyed Burmese and Cambodian fishermen and confirmed that trafficking of bird of passage fishermen on Thai fishing boats is widespread, with common patterns of berate.
  • Nearly one-third of the fishermen IJM surveyed had witnessed a crewmate’s abuse at sea, and one in seven were physically misused themselves.
  • More than three-quarters (76.2 per cent) of the fishermen IJM scanned had accrued debt prior to even beginning work.

Sources: 2018 International Slavery Index, International Justice Mission Canada

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