“The Worst Kind of Work” Thai Prisoners Forced into Labor, Often Without Pay
by Ed Lyon
In February 2022, watchdog groups called for a U.S. ban on imports of fishing nets from Thailand, after a December 2021 report by Thomson Reuters Foundation that found some of that country’s 280,000 prisoners are being forced to make the nets by hand under threat of punishment and often without pay.
Former prisoners stated they had quotas to meet or else suffer punishment, including a beating on the back with a baton or a baseball bat. Prison policy requires guards administering beatings to hold a book under their upper arm to prevent big, sweeping strikes, but this policy is reportedly seldom followed.
Other reported punishments include being forced to disrobe in the hot sun and roll in dirt, as well as solitary confinement and visitation denial—as if making the nets were not torture in itself. Many former prisoners described working with sharp fibers that cut fingers and hands, as well as other materials so rough they left blisters. One man described it as “tiring as hell.”
“But everyone inside knows it’s a money-maker [for prison officials],” he added. “[O]ur fingers would all be sore with wounds. It’s real torture … the worst kind of work.”
Thailand’s corrections department denied there was any forced prisoner labor used, saying that would be “unacceptable.” Spokesman Thawatchai Chaiyawat added, “Any payment to inmates is according to regulations … including the productions of fishing nets.”
Despite the widespread use of coerced prisoner labor in the U.S., the Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1307, specifically prohibits importing merchandise for sale produced by forced labor or by prisoners.
The federal Department of Labor has expressed concern “about the allegation of prisons in Thailand using inmates to produce fishing nets for private companies.” Thai firms like the Khon Kaen Fishing Net Factory then export and sell them to U.S. fishermen, who purchased about $12 million worth of fishing nets from Thailand in 2020.
By the assessment of Jennifer Rosenbaum, executive director of the Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, “This is just one of many examples of how multinational corporations scour the globe to source the lowest-priced products, but absolve themselves of responsibility for the human rights abuses their race-to-the-bottom engenders.”
Source: Bangkok Post
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