Thai Seafood Packers Cheer as EU Lifts Yellow Card Status

The Bangkok-headquartered Thai Union Group and other seafood producers from Thailand rejoiced on January 8 as the European Union Commission announced a long sought decision to lift the so-called “yellow card” warning issued to exporters in 2015 following press reports alleging labor abuses and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.

thai graphic01A fisherman is pictured using a mobile phone on a boat in southern Thailand, where Thai Union and Mars Petcare are implementing a digital traceability pilot program designed to enhance human rights and provide workers with a voice at sea. "I want to congratulate the Royal Thai Government for its efforts to bring change to the country in the fight against IUU fishing," said Thiraphong Chansiri, Thai Union’s chief executive officer. "The improvements to regulation and enforcement of the fishing industry have been significant, not only in terms of traceability and the sustainable development of the fisheries, but also in terms of eliminating human rights violations."

The yellow carding process created an impetus for Thailand to lead the way in fisheries reform in the Southeast Asia region, and Thai authorities should be commended for their work, according to Dr. Darian McBain, Thai Union’s global director of sustainable development.

For example, she noted, requiring bank accounts and electronic payment transfers for migrant workers in Thailand's fishing industry helped 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 several years ago – including 100% of our workforce in Thailand," said McBain. "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."

Thailand's Department of Fisheries also supported an innovative digital traceability pilot project, which was implemented by Thai Union in 2017. It utilizes mobile applications and satellite connectivity on Thai fishing vessels, boosting human rights for workers on vessels as well as transparency of fishing data capture.

Indicative of how significant connectivity at sea is, the Thai Government last year announced a provision in new regulation mandating that Thai vessel owners operating outside of national waters must provide a satellite communication system and device onboard for workers at sea.

"Thailand's involvement in the Bali Process should be applauded as well," said McBain. "It provides a platform for governments to engage the private sector on how to best combat human trafficking, forced labor and related exploitation."

Looking ahead, Thai Union anticipates the development will help in promoting seafood trade to the EU from Thailand.

Thai Union, a major supplier of frozen shrimp, tuna and other value added fishery products to global markets, owns several prominent canned seafood labels in Europe. The brands include John West, Petit Navire, Parmentier, Hawesta, Lysell and Mareblu. The company also owns King Oscar in Norway and holds a majority share of Rügen Fisch AG in Germany.