In its first report on trafficking around the world, the U.S. criticized Thailand as a hub for labor abuse. Yet 14 years later, seafood caught by slaves on Thai boats is still slipping into the supply chains of major American stores and supermarkets.
The U.S. has not enforced a law banning the import of goods made with forced labor since 2000 because of significant loopholes, The Associated Press has found. It has also spared Thailand from sanctions slapped on other countries with weak records in human trafficking because of a complex political relationship that includes cooperation against terrorism.
The question of how to deal with Thailand and labor abuse will come up at a congressional hearing Wednesday, in light of an AP investigation that found hundreds of men beaten, starved, forced to work with little or no pay and even held in a cage on the remote island village of Benjina. While officials at federal agencies would not directly answer why the law and sanctions are not applied, they pointed out that the U.S. State Department last year blacklisted Thailand as among the worst offenders in its report on trafficking in people worldwide.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said the plight of about 4,000 forced laborers in Thailand's seafood industry can no longer go unheeded. Many are migrant workers from Myanmar and other countries who were forced to work on Thai boats in Indonesian waters.
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