After having explored better-known aspects of Thai society, like Ladyboy and Thai boxers), I wanted to focus on those left behind the recent Thai prosperity, the forced workers in the fishing industry. So I made this photography series called "Slavery at sea".
The US Department of State (TIP report, 2012) estimates that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are currently victims of human trafficking and slavery around the world.
Thailand is the third-largest seafood exporter in the world, after China and Norway, with exports valued by the Food and Agriculture Organization at around $7.3 billion in 2011. The Thai fishing industry extensively relies on slavery and forced labor.
Out of the 2 million Myanmar workers in Thailand, more than 1 million are illegal. The rise in forced labor on Thai fishing boats is linked to the growing global demand for low-cost seafood. The Burmese crews on the fishing boats are treated like modern-day slaves.
Each worker costs about Bt25,000-Bt35,000. The price captains pay for these men is extremely low even by historical standards. Slaves cost 95% less than during the heyday of trafficking in the 19th century, meaning that they are not regarded as long-term investments but as disposable commodities.
Mahachai, unofficially known as “Little Myanmar” is located southwest of Bangkok and crowded with migrant workers from Myanmar. They are employed by Thai employers for the work at seafood factories for minimum wages of Bt200 (5 EUR) per day. The use of trafficked labour is systematic in the Thai fishing industry. Migrant workers in the fishing industry are suffering from terrible abuse and are all too often denied their basic human rights.
Some workers still don't have a status, although many of them have been living here for some time, some even managing to run small businesses like restaurants, bookstores, clothing stores, and hair salons. Although they own small businesses, they still live in fear.
The area is officially under the control of the Thai police department. Migrant workers have to pay a monthly bribe to Thai police officers to avoid the arrest. Police officers usually ask Bt800 per month from a shop owner who does not have all the paperwork. A worker can get arrested easily by police, which makes up stories about their illegal activities. When that happens, a price must be negotiated between the worker and the police.
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