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Stella Maris Seafarer’s Centre

October 21, 2016

Up to 200,000 migrants working in the Thai fishing industry are susceptible to exploitation and unethical labour practices. Recent media scrutiny on the Thai fishing industry has prompted the Thai government and the private sector to reform unregulated labour practices, but more work remains to be done.  Read more about The Freedom Fund’s Thailand hotspot.

In August I travelled to Thailand to visit the frontline organisations that the Freedom Fund has been supporting for the past year. In Songkhla, a fishing port in southern Thailand near the border with Malaysia, we met with staff from the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Centre (Stella Maris), which works with migrants, teaching them life skills and supporting them to access legal and social services in addition to offering emergency shelter.

At Stella Maris we were able to talk with four Cambodian survivors of slavery (aged between 13 and 36) who had been staying in the shelter above Stella Maris’ offices for approximately two months. They had been approached in their village with offers of work in Thailand. Following entry into Thailand via an island on the Cambodia/Thai border, they were taken by their new employers to get their ‘pink cards’*. They signed the forms for these cards with their thumbs despite not being able to read any of the information.

With their pink cards, they went straight to work on fishing boats for the first time. At first they found the trip exciting and adventurous, but soon the reality of their situation took effect. After seven days at sea, the boat would come into port to offload its catch before leaving with no rest period. At sea, the men worked from 3pm until 5am starting their day mending nets and preparing for the next catch which began at 8pm. The group decided they had to leave, but the captain refused to let them off the boat.

When coming to port one day, the men and young boy were able to escape and contacted Stella Maris who in turn contacted the police to report the case. With Stella Maris’ assistance the men and child are now using the judicial system to pursue compensation and wages. If successful, their aim is to use these funds to return home to their village in Cambodia.

Meeting these individuals at Stella Maris was an incredibly impactful trip as it demonstrated the dedication of our partners to work under immense pressures, the sheer complexity of the Thai seafood industry’s supply chains and the horrific working conditions of Cambodian and Burmese migrants.

*A pink card is a measure which enables undocumented migrant workers to apply for documents such as a passport, work permit and visa. However, they are not recognised as official ID and do not grant regular working status. Pink card holders are not eligible for benefits like social security, leave, workers’ compensation or a driver’s licence.

Written by
The Freedom Fund