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Thailand Opposes International Efforts to Tackle Forced Labour

17 June 2014

THAILAND - Thailand has cast further doubt on its commitment to deal with widespread reports of human trafficking and labour abuse by becoming the only government to vote against the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) strengthening of an existing international treaty on forced labour.

The Protocol, which will be added to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (No. 29), requires countries “to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms”. It offers concrete guidance on how to address human trafficking and focuses on strengthening measures to prevent abuse, protect victims and provide remedy to those affected. It further requires governments to establish protection for migrant workers against “fraudulent and abusive recruitment practices”, a serious problem facing migrants looking for work in Thailand.

Despite growing international pressure, including a recent exposé by the Guardian newspaper into trafficking and forced labour in the Thai seafood industry and sustained campaigns from civil society, Thailand’s military Government has sent a clear message that it stands alone in opposition to strengthening the Convention.

Over the last two years, Thailand has faced criticism from international observers concerned by the Government’s failure to act effectively to curb labour and human rights abuses occurring in the country, despite its well publicised and regular announcements regarding progress on the issue.

During the annual International Labour Conference (ILC) held in Geneva on Wednesday, there were a total of eight votes against the Protocol, with four coming from representatives of employers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Malaysia and Slovenia. The remaining four votes all came from Thailand, with the Government accounting for two votes while Thai employers and workers representatives contributed one vote each. The decision to stand against the Protocol further highlights Thailand’s isolation as the rest of the world takes meaningful steps to tackle the problem of forced labour, thought to affect some 21 million people around the world.

Thailand’s rejection of the Protocol on forced labour follows decades of refusal to ratify other conventions - including ILO C.87 and C.98 - to protect the rights of workers and migrants within its export-oriented economy.

Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said: “Obstructing efforts to address the serious and devastating issue of forced labour around the world is an absolute disgrace and one that brings further shame onto an already embattled Government. It also fuels the suspicion that much of Thailand’s public statements regarding its commitment to tackling forced labour amount to little more than a PR exercise.

"In the context of ongoing exposés into the brutal slavery plaguing Thailand’s seafood industry, yesterday’s development should give serious pause for thought to businesses sourcing products from Thailand. The Government’s refusal to adopt this Protocol is significantly out of step with the needs of responsible businesses concerned with taking immediate action to address forced labour in their extended supply chains and manage the potential risk to their brands.”

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