Not In The Same Boat

Labor Trafficking in Southeast Asia and reports of slavery in supply chains are making international headlines. While reports have shown how migrant workers are being trafficked into the Thai seafood industry, there has not yet been a comprehensive study documenting the prevalence of forced labor and exploitation of fishermen on Thai fishing vessels. With funding from the Walmart Foundation, IJM commissioned Issara Institute to conduct research in Thailand documenting the prevalence of forced labor.

Key Findings

The research surveyed Burmese and Cambodian current and former fishermen living in Thailand. The study shows that trafficking of migrant fishermen on Thai fishing boats has been widespread, and there are common patterns of abuse in the industry.

Of the fishermen interviewed about their experience between 2011 and August 2016:

  • 37.9% had been trafficked;
  • 14.1% were physically abused, and 31.5% witnessed a crewmate's abuse at sea; and
  • 76.2% accrued debt prior to even beginning work (either to an employer, broker, or net supervisor)

Momentum Forward

Since 2014, the Thai Government has increased efforts to combat trafficking significantly. This new study offers data and insights that can support the government's efforts to end trafficking in the fishing industry. Progress is being made, but there is still more work to do, and we believe the more data and information available, the better collaborative efforts will be to help end forced labor.

The Thai Government has issued progress reports in 2016 and 2017, and these additional examples demonstrate how the government is leading the charge against this complex, cross-border crime:

  • Thailand strengthened its 2008 anti-human trafficking act by amending it in 2015 and 2017, increasing penalties for traffickers and clarifying that the withholding of identity documents or the use of debt bondage specifically constitutes forced labor.
  • Thailand issued a human trafficking criminal procedure act in 2015, which strengthened the justice system's ability to respond to trafficking cases. It includes measures to expedite the judicial process for trafficking cases to conclude within one year, allow video testimony to ease burdens on victims, and increase witness protection and other support available to victims.
  • Since 2015, Thailand has had specialized anti-trafficking agencies within each part of the criminal justice system, including anti-trafficking police, a human trafficking division of the criminal court, an anti-trafficking prosecutorial division, and an anti-trafficking division with the social services ministry.


As the Thai Government leads a coordinated response to combat labor trafficking, IJM Bangkok stands ready to support. Our hope is that the data from this study will help the Thai government target their response to the places of greatest need, and continue their recent progress in improving law enforcement response to the issue.—Andrey Sawchenko, IJM Bangkok Field Office Director