The seafood sector has been facing a human rights crisis since the media shone a spotlight on controversial 'slave labor' practices among Burmese and Cambodian migrants working in Thailand's commercial offshore fisheries in 2014. This discussion will outline the emergence of these scandals in relation to Thailand - describing the policy and regulatory responses on the part of government, NGOs and the private sector and presenting a critique of the dualistic understandings of freedom and unfreedom implicit in the slavery and trafficking framings. The discussion will pay particular attention to the role of migration in facilitating unacceptable working conditions, as well as the exceptional nature of fishing compared to terrestrial work. The presentation will conclude with a brief description of the conditions in the fisheries in Myanmar, which has not been subject to international scrutiny. Here, the comparisons among fisheries will be used to build explanations for the presence of poor working conditions in this sector, and to discuss the limited impact of international scandals on fisheries workers more broadly.
Peter Vandergeest (Ph.D., Cornell) teaches and writes in the areas of political ecology and agrarian studies in Southeast Asia. He is co-editor of Revisiting Rural Places: Pathways to Poverty and Prosperity in Southeast Asia (2012) with Jonathan Rigg; The Politics of Decentralization in Southeast Asia (2009) with Chusak Withayapak; and Developments Displacements: Economies, Ecologies, and Cultures at Risk (2006) with Pablo Idahosa and Pablo Bose.
Melissa Marschke (Ph.D., University of Manitoba) works on human-environment relations, with an emphasis on livelihoods and environmental governance. Along with many journal articles and several book chapters, she is the author of Life, Fish and Mangroves: Resource Governance in Coastal Cambodia (2012).
Prof. Vandergeest and Prof. Marschke have been working together on a research project examining labor relations in Southeast Asias fisheries and how they have been remade through migration, industrialization, and changing marine ecologies. They have co-authored two recent articles on this work: Modern day slavery in Thai fisheries: academic critique, practical action in Critical Asian Studies 49:3 (2017) with Olivia Tran; and Slavery scandals: Unpacking labour challenges and policy responses within the off-shore fisheries sector in Marine Policy 68 (2016).