Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand’s International Conference on United Partnerships Against Human Trafficking
26 April 2018
Dr. Darian McBain, Global Director for Sustainable Development, Thai Union Group
Statement at Opening Ceremony
As prepared for delivery – check against quotes
Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Khun Don Pramudwinai,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of Thai Union, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for convening this conference. It is important to have a robust dialogue about how we all can unite to promote human rights and anti-trafficking.
I only have a brief period to speak, so I’ll dispense with the pleasantries to share a short story.
Three years ago, I arrived in Thailand to become Thai Union’s Global Director for Sustainable Development. It was like a baptism by fire.
Not long after I started, the New York Times published its investigation depicting horrifying human rights violations and trafficking throughout the Thai fishing industry. The Associated Press then unveiled its exposé “Seafood from Slaves” focusing on Southeast Asia, further building upon earlier reports of abuses.
The condemnations from the international community flowed in swiftly, too.
In the following months, the Associated Press published another article, reporting on potential human rights violations at various shrimp peeling facilities in Samut Sakhon.
As awful and heartbreaking as the situation appeared, I knew these crises could serve as a catalyst for a sea change in the global fishing industry.
And, to achieve that, Thai Union would need to be at the forefront of the movement as a leading agent of positive change.
So, in 2016, Thai Union launched SeaChange®, our sustainability strategy to ensure:
- That the seas are sustainable now and for future generations;
- That our workers are safe, legally employed and empowered;
- And, that the vessels we buy from are legal and operate responsibly.
SeaChange® formally positioned sustainability at the heart of our business. Thai Union does this not only because it is the right thing to do ethically, but because it is the right thing to do for the business.
Companies — and governments — that ignore sustainable development or use it as window dressing and greenwashing, do so at their own peril. They risk the long-term viability of their products and workforce, as well as the potential loss of access to global markets.
I’m proud Thai Union is now widely recognized for our sustainability efforts to actively and substantively combat exploitative practices throughout the global seafood industry. Furthermore, SeaChange® is contributing to broader societal change by helping the world meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
At Thai Union, we believe traceability is the backbone of sustainability. Full traceability enables us to track every product from catch to consumption. It helps us monitor operations, actions and labor conditions to guarantee suppliers abide by the same sustainability standards as we do.
And with a global workforce that welcomes legal economic migrants, Thai Union is focused on reducing the potential of abuse and extortion against these workers.
For instance, in Thailand, not only are migrant workers susceptible to discrimination, but they can be coerced into paying high recruitment fees on the way from their home country to secure a job. This means migrants seeking lawful employment might find themselves deeply indebted before arriving on the job.
Debt bondage has no place in our operations. Thai Union has eliminated recruitment fees for all workers in our factories and processing plants, effective for all future recruitment of workers both from within Thailand and overseas.
The elimination of recruitment fees follows Thai Union’s continued development of an ethical migrant worker recruitment policy.
These changes are critical; however, no single entity can do it alone. Collaboration is key.
On that note, I must remind everyone Thailand has a symbiotic relationship with the economic migrants who comprise a portion of our communities—we rely on them as much as they rely on us. I encourage the Government to take further steps to ensure migration is safe and legal, and human trafficking is eliminated.
I believe Thailand can be a leader on human rights and anti-trafficking, because I have learned in my time here that compassion for life is at the core of the character of this country.
The Government has made recent advances in these areas which should be commended.
Requiring bank accounts and electronic payment transfers for migrant workers in Thailand’s fishing industry helps promote human rights and safeguard workers through greater transparency and fairness.
We know this is effective because Thai Union transitioned workers across our global operations to electronic payments two years ago—including 100 percent of our workforce in Thailand.
I can share from our experience that digital payments not only promote inclusive finance but also empower women with more control over family finances. This in turn increases their personal security and economic empowerment.
The Department of Fisheries was also incredibly supportive of an innovative digital traceability pilot project Thai Union implemented in 2017, which utilized mobile applications and satellite connectivity on Thai fishing vessels. The results demonstrated true electronic end-to-end traceability and supply chain management.
Importantly, for human rights, the pilot also brought with it the ability for workers on vessels to use a chat application to communicate with loved ones back on shore or raise the flag with authorities in the event of a problem. In fact, we have made a short film highlighting this project’s successes, which we will share in this forum shortly if all goes according to plan.
Indicative of how significant connectivity at sea is, the Government recently announced a provision in new regulation mandating Thai vessel owners operating outside of national waters must now provide a satellite communication system and device onboard for workers at sea. Thai Union is obviously supportive of the Government’s effort to more formally protect workers in the fisheries sector in this manner.
Thailand’s involvement in the Bali Process should be applauded as well. It provides a platform for governments to engage the private sector on how to best combat human trafficking, forced labor and related exploitation.
Thai Union, which is honored to represent Thailand’s business community in this ongoing process, also appreciates the opportunity to share our experience on these issues with participating governments on an international stage.
By working together, government and the private sector can make an incredible impact.
Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to conclude with a simple message: Human life is not expendable.
It is time we all demand liberty, equality and security for everyone, to ensure no one is sentenced to an existence of slavery, servitude or other exploitation. The poor—the most vulnerable among us—cannot afford to subsidize the lives of the rich at the expense of their basic human rights.
I imagine everyone in this room would agree. But the time has come where words are not enough.
The question is, do we really care? Do we genuinely care enough to stand up to ensure all human beings are guaranteed the freedom and dignity and rights we are all born with?
As we move forward, it is incumbent upon the people in this room to lead the world in this fight. We do this, in part, through genuine political will, multi-party collaboration, and resolute, uncompromising determination.
If we work together, we can create the future we all envision, for every man, woman and child; a future where no one profits off another’s misery; and a future where no one is suppressed by the scourge of slavery.
Thank you very much. And now I believe we will have an opportunity to watch the film about our digital traceability pilot project.