Labour Agents and Slavery

Much of the human trafficking in the seafood industry in SE Asia is with migrant workers. The trade is in human beings and the currency is hope. Most of these people come from poverty crushing realities and are looking for a better life, or looking to how they might make some money to take home or send back to their families – so they can have a better life. If they get trapped and trafficked, it not only makes it very difficult to live with, but it also makes it difficult to go back home. They know that if they return empty handed or having to explained why they did not succeed, then they are shamed - and it can force them to stay even longer.

Labour agents have played on that vulnerability. One of the biggest tools they have is to offer hope, then they build trust, and then they deceive them. It is so crushing and so devastating. There are so many stories of people signing up with a work agent who tells them it will cost US$1000 to use their job finding services and the jobs that they have on their books. They are told that they can pay that off easily over a number of years. They take them to the border and hand them over to another agent. They get transported to where they were told the job would be - but this new agent tells them they must pay the money now! When they say they were told they could pay it off over a number of years they are told they know nothing about that.

When they say they do not have the money, they are told that they will have to go wherever they are told, their identity papers are taken away and they find themselves on a boat till the amount is paid off – and with a high interest being charged. This is called bonded labour and it is a form of slavery.

 I have talked to a person in that this happened to Thailand. He was from Myanmar. He found that the interest charged meant he had to work on a boat for 17 years. During that time, he was never allowed to leave the boat even when it came into port – consequently he did not walk on land for the full 17 years. 

This reality has been so bad that many in the industry are pushing for a policy that they will not use any agent that has charged the workers fees.