Upon reading the London Guardian’s article “US may blacklist Thailand after prawn trade slavery revelations,” one may actually believe a revelation regarding slavery in Thailand has been made and blacklisting Thailand is a warranted course of action. However, they would be wrong.
What the Guardian piece is in actuality, is a plagiarized, politically motivated, carefully timed attack not on the perpetrators of Thailand’s human trafficking, but on the new military-led government that has already taken concrete steps to stop it – and the immense profits it has brought Western multinational big-retailers. In other words, the Guardian piece is propaganda obstructing, not assisting the ending of human trafficking.
Guardian’s Piece is Plagiarized & Politically Motivated
The Guardian claims it had investigated human trafficking in Thailand’s fishing industry for 6 months, resulting in their acclaimed “revelations.” However the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has been investigating and reporting on human trafficking, and in particular within Thailand’s fishing industry, for years. A March 2014 report titled, “SLAVERY AT SEA: The Continued Plight of Trafficked Migrants in Thailand’s Fishing Industry,” covers every aspect Guardian’s report did, as did a previous report published by EJF in 2013 – “Sold to the Sea: Human Trafficking in Thailand’s Fishing Industry.” EJF even has two videos accompanying each report, here and here respectively. Aside from political spin and threats of sanctions, the Guardian report offers nothing new, and even interviews EJF’s executive director Steve Trent.
Both the Guardian’s report and EJF’s two reports were drafted with support from Humanity United, an opaque foundation led by an incestuous mix of big-business and US State Department representatives and part of the Omidyar Group, a for-profit and non-profit “philanthropic investment firm.”
Considering this, the Guardian’s overview is a verified lie. It states (emphasis added):
A six-month Guardian multimedia investigation has, for the first time, tracked how some of the world’s big-supermakets, Tesco, Aldi, Walmart and Morrisons, are using suppliers relying on slave labour to put cheap prawns on their shelves. Slavery is back and here’s the proof. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The conclusion that “slavery is back and here’s the proof” along with the Guardian’s updated article, “US may blacklist Thailand after prawn trade slavery revelations,” attempts to portray Thailand’s current government, which just came to power on May 22, 2014, as responsible for the current state of Thailand’s human trafficking. The article states:
The US is considering downgrading Thailand to a human trafficking blacklist, following revelations in the Guardian that slaves are being used in the production of prawns sold in leading American, British and European supermarkets.
Washington will directly address allegations of human trafficking in Thailand in an imminent report that could result in economic sanctions against Bangkok. The state department has confirmed it intends to review the country’s response to abuses such as migrants being bought by shipowners and forced to work as slaves for years at sea without pay.
The review, expected in the middle of this month, could result in Thailand being downgraded to the lowest level in a US system that ranks 188 nations according to their willingness and efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking. A relegation to tier three could trigger economic sanctions and loss of development aid, although such punishments can be waived under certain national security considerations.
However, it is confirmed that the US State Department knew definitively of these abuses as early as last year. The US State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (.pdf) would state explicitly that:
An assessment of the cumulative risk of labor trafficking among Burmese migrant workers in the seafood industry in Samut Sakhon found that 57 percent of the 430 workers surveyed experienced conditions of forced labor. A report released by an international organization in January 2011 noted prevalent forced labor conditions, including debt bondage, among Cambodian and Burmese individuals recruited some forcefully or through fraud—for work in the Thai fishing industry. According to the report, Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai men were trafficked onto Thai fishing boats that traveled throughout Southeast Asia and beyond, where they remained at sea for up to several years, not paid, forced to work 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, and threatened and physically beaten. Similarly, an earlier UN survey found that 29 of 49 (58 percent) surveyed migrant fishermen trafficked aboard Thai fishing boats had reported witnessing a fellow fishermen killed by boat captains in instances when they were too weak or sick to work.
Clearly, none of what the Guardian reported was a “revelation” and the United States’ decision to wait until now when it had within its possession the same information it is basing its current decision on, a year ago, is evidence of a politically motivated leveraging of human tragedy to exact upon the new military-led government and its allies within Thailand’s business community a penalty for ousting Thaksin Shinawatra from power. What is worse, targeting the current government may undermine efforts now finally underway to actually combat human trafficking that was taking place under Thaksin Shianwatra’s rule and with the full support of his notoriously corrupt police force.
Thailand’s Military-Led Government is Already Combating Human Trafficking
Most ironic is that the United States is only considering sanctions now after it struggled to support Thaksin Shinwatra’s regime while human trafficking was taking place, and now attempts to disrupt and undermine the only force in Thai politics capable and willing to combat human trafficking.
Legislation to combat human trafficking is in fact, already in place. The “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E 2551 (2008) (.pdf)” was passed into law on January 30, 2008. It was drafted under, and signed by, the military-appointed government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont after the first coup aimed at toppling the regime of Thaksin Shinawatra was executed in 2006. However, despite the new legislation, Shinawatra’s control over the nation’s police prevented any enforcement.
Since the May 22, 2014 military coup, the new government has finally managed to strip from Shinawatra the immense impunity he and his political machine has operated behind for over a decade. One of the new government’s first priorities was dismantling Shinawatra’s increasingly paramilitary, terroristic, and centralized police force. Reuters would report in an article titled, “Thailand’s junta sidelines pro-Thaksin police, governors,” that:
Thailand’s military is conducting a systematic reshuffle to blunt the power of officials seen as loyal to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in what seems to be an effort to dismantle his support base and ensure he can never return to power.
Governors in 13 provinces have been transferred, mostly from the country’s pro-Thaksin north and northeast, according to the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
The junta is also restructuring the police, long seen as a bastion of support for Thaksin and his sister, ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Thaksin was a police officer for 13 years before resigning to start his own business.
While the Western media, Western politicians, and a myriad of faux-academics and NGOs parroting Western talking points decried the new government’s moves, dismantling Shinawatra’s support base, including the restructuring of his immensely politicized and corrupt police force, is an essential first step in combating not only human trafficking but a wide variety of corruption, abuses, and ongoing crimes against humanity that had unfolded, unchecked, and in the face of laws that have long gone unenforced under Shinawatra’s rule.
Next, the new government headed by Royal Thai Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and with new police leadership in place, began several steps to combat human trafficking in particular, including training sessions on assistance for human trafficking victims, the creation of a sub-committee to tackle issues involving the use of foreign workers, and better regulation overall of the workforce. Swift and effective moves to crush illegal rackets across the country have already caused thousands of undocumented, illegal workers to flee from Thailand – now that existing laws are finally being enforced and new frameworks are being considered. Thai PBS would report in an article titled, “Cambodian migrants flee Thailand,” that:
The Phnom Penh Post reported that thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are rushing back across the border, voluntarily repatriating themselves in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric towards undocumented labourers.
With the new government demonstrably solving a myriad of problems and abuses left behind by the regime of Thaksin Shianwatra, the timing and plagiarized nature of the Guardian’s “revelations” is at best suspicious propaganda, and at worst an attempt to undermine the current government as part of an effort to ultimately return Shinawatra back to power and allow the abuses now fully documented and exposed to the world to continue unabated.
Since the absolute entirety of the Guardian’s report is plagiarized from EJF’s previous 2 years of work, the beginning of their “investigation” 6 months ago, in the month of December 2013, takes on a curious dimension. It was in December 2013 that it became clear the regime of Thaksin Shinawatra was mortally wounded and that the momentum nationwide had shifted against both him and the torrent of Western propaganda flowing across airwaves, upon newspapers, and over the Internet in his support. The prospect of a military coup was all but a certainty, leaving it as not a question of if, but of when.
That was when the propagandists at the Guardian became busy, recycling EJF’s original work into a fresh documentary complete with animated reenactments, narrated by Cumberbatch, and to be published when the military finally did take over. With the Guardian and other Western media bullhorns attempting to portray Thailand as the new “North Korea” as it rounds up and holds accountable Shinawatra’s political allies for a decade-long crime spree, it was certainly helpful when the Guardian’s report was able to claim regarding the prospect of Thailand’s soon-to-be downgraded ranking that:
A tier-3 ranking would rank Thailand alongside Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia for categorically failing to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims.
It is documented that both the US State Department and Humanity United which supported the creation of both EJF’s reports as well as the most recent Gaurdian propaganda, knew for years of the ongoing abuses and human trafficking taking place within Thailand’s fishing industry under the regime of Thaksin Shinawatra. With the Guardian beginning to load its hit piece in December of 2013 when the fall of Shinawatra’s regime was imminent, and its propaganda broadside today, followed by the threat of US sanctions in light of these “revelations” Washington had already known about for years, constitutes a transparently horrifying exploitation of human suffering for political leverage.
Guardian’s Assault on Thailand a Symptom of Globalization
When foreign multinationals were profiting from years of ongoing slave labor under the Shinawatra regime, Western NGOs, governments and media outlets quietly documented it. Now that a new government has taken charge and has actively taken steps to stop slave labor, a coordinated attack is being carried out in an attempt to undermine the credibility and even stability of Thailand. The crimes the West was benefiting from are now being used as a weapon against those who are trying to stop them, in what is clearly another indictment of the bankruptcy and depravity of “globalization.”
It is also a wake up call for both business interests and power brokers in Thailand, and sovereign nations around the world. Interdependency is a threat to national economic stability and national security itself. Reducing dependency on foreign markets is essential in preventing the coordinated attack Thailand is now under. Thailand, diversifying its export markets among nations that do not demand preconditions to trade, nor demand exporters to be integrated into compromising “free trade” agreements, would also be useful.
For individuals around the world, shocked by the slave labor that feeds not only Walmart and Tesco’s seafood aisles – but their clothing departments, electronic shelves, and toy sections as well – boycotting big-retail and permanently replacing it with local alternatives is an incremental and practical way to fight back. Leaving it to disingenuous government organizations and right advocates that allow slave labor to continue and only raise the issue when politically profitable, will only allow existing abuses to continue today and open to the door to new, additional abuses tomorrow.