Bangkok (AsiaNews) - More than 2 thousand workers enslaved in the fishing industry were released in the first six months of this year in the countries of Southeast Asia. This is the result of an investigation that began more than a year ago by some reporters of the Associated Press, which led to the discovery of a thriving market in human exploitation which has its hub in the eastern islands of Indonesia and involvies workers from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
A report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows that workers are trapped on islands (such as Benjina, in Indonesia's Maluku), exploited, tortured and locked up in cages. A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropicl Meicine, based on interviews with more than a thousand survivors, reveals that half of the fishermen who manage to return home suffer from depression and approximately 40% from acute post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. Many of them bear the marks of scarring or mutilation.
25 years old Tin Lin Tun, has not seen his family for five years, since a Thai agent took him away, promising him a job in construction: "I'm sure my parents think I'm dead." Rather than becoming a builder, the boy was sold to a fishing boat and taken to Indonesia.
The investigation revealed that the marine products from slave labor are purchased by some US food giants. The importing agencies have condemned all forms of exploitation, but lawsuits were opened against companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Nestle USA Inc. and Nestle Purina Petcare Co.
Labor exploitation in the fisheries sector is one of the most dangerous social ills in Thailand, involving hundreds of thousands of children. According to government data, the injury rate of children under 15 who work illegally on barges and fishing boats is much higher for those who are exploited in the oil or gas industries. According to the International Labor Organization and the Asia Foundation, 20% of young fishermen are victims of accidents, compared to 8.4% of their "colleagues" in other sectors.
Thailand is the third largest exporter of fish in the world, for a market that, according to the Thai Frozen Foods Association, last year reached $ 3 billion. The turnover with Europe totaled between 575 and 730 million euro per year. The sector employs about 300 thousand people, mostly illegal immigrants from neighboring countries.
The children exploited in the Thai fishing industry - many of whom come from Cambodia and Myanmar - also work 50 hours a week. Only 30% of the workers are legal (at least 15 years old) and enjoys the protection of a contract.