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Indications Of Child Labor Aboard Thai Fishing Fleet Thailand, September 4, 13

The International Labor Organization (ILO) says it has found irregular practices within the Thailand fisheries sector in the form of coercion and the use of minors. As a reaction to this information the Spanish canning industry is urging the European Union to exclude Thai canned tuna from the EU/Thailand free trade agreement.
The Spanish tuna industry has always strongly opposed requests for Thai tuna to enter into a free trade agreement with the European Union as it believes it will create a huge threat to the European canned tuna processing sector. Accusations of child labor, illegal labor and poor working conditions in tuna canneries have in the past been expressed to support such an exclusion.
According to a report based on 596 interviews by ILO researchers, in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University, identified 33 children engaged in Thai fishing boats, and seven were under the age of 15 years. The definition of a child refers to minors younger than 18 years old.


Thailand is the largest tuna processing nation in the world, and exported 576,243 tons of canned tuna and pre-cooked loins in 2011. Despite this, Thailand flagged tuna vessels, which are mostly small scale wooden or fiberglass vessels, only caught 43,391 tons of tuna in the same year.

Longtail (Tongol) and Kawakawa tuna makes up the majority of Thailand’s total tuna catch, whereas the largest volume of canned tuna is processed using skipjack and yellowfin, which is caught by foreign industrial purse seiners that do not fly the Thai flag, and do not employ Thai workers. The import of longtail and kawakawa in Europe is also very limited. Despite this, the Spanish industry still make fierce efforts to restrict the free trade of Thai canned tuna based on the principal that child workers are used on their vessels.
According to the ILO report, around five percent of fishermen admitted that they were deceived or coerced in the fishing sector, 17 percent said they were working against their will and 12 percent said they could not leave the boat without high fines having to be paid. Nearly five percent said they feared threats of violence.
The ILO said in a statement that under international law, minors may work in fisheries with the assurance that there are minimal conditions of dangerous work practices. The report however notes that there is a gray area regarding child labor, as some fishing tasks can be hazardous to children, including working at night.
Exceptions within the European law allows children aged 14 years or over to work as part of a work/training scheme. The EU Directive clarified that these exceptions do not allow child labor where the children may experience harmful exposure to dangerous substances. Nonetheless, many children under the age of 13 do work, even in the most developed countries of the EU. For instance, a recent study showed over a third of Dutch twelve-year-old kids do various types of work to earn some pocket money.