Labor rights campaigners warned against complacency as the European Union on Tuesday withdrew its threat to ban Thai fishing imports into the bloc, saying that the country has made progress in tackling illegal and unregulated fishing.
The EU’s so-called “yellow card” on Thai fishing exports has been in place since April 2015 as a warning that the country was not sufficiently addressing the issues.
“Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing damages global fish stocks, but it also hurts the people living from the sea, especially those already vulnerable to poverty,” Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for environment and fisheries said.
“Today’s decision reverses the first step of a process that could have led to a complete import ban of marine fisheries products into the EU,” he said in a statement.
Thailand has amended its fisheries legal framework in line with international law, and improved its monitoring and surveillance systems, including remote monitoring of fishing activities and more robust inspections at port, the EU said.
The country’s multibillion-dollar seafood industry has also come under scrutiny for slavery, trafficking and violence on fishing boats and at onshore processing facilities.
After the EU threatened to ban fish exports, and the U.S. State Department said it was failing to tackle human trafficking, the Southeast Asian country toughened up its laws and increased fines for violations.
Thailand has introduced modern technologies — from satellites to optical scanning and electronic payment services — to crack down on abuses.
But the International Labor Organization said in March that fishermen remained at risk of forced labor, and the wages of some continued to be withheld.
The EU on Tuesday said it recognized efforts by Thailand to tackle human trafficking and to improve labor conditions in the fishing sector.
Thailand voted in December to ratify ILO convention 188 — which sets standards of decent work in the fishing industry — becoming the first Asian country to do so.
But important gaps remain, said Steve Trent, executive director at advocacy group Environmental Justice Foundation.
“We still have concerns about the workers. We need to see that the reforms are durable,” he said.
Thailand is yet to ratify two other ILO conventions on the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining, both of which are essential to protect workers, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
This is particularly important in the fishing and seafood processing industries, as most of their estimated 600,000 workers are migrant workers.
“There is a risk that with the lifting of the yellow card, complacency will set in. We need to see a culture of compliance, and more being done to protect vulnerable workers in the industry,” Trent said.