Tag Archives: Thailand

Shrimp slaves wait for justice 8 months after Thai raid

Nearly eight months ago, migrant worker Tin Nyo Win thought he was doing the right thing — the only thing — to help free his pregnant wife from slavery inside a Thai shrimp peeling shed. He ran for help and prompted police to raid the business, freeing nearly 100 Burmese laborers, including child slaves.

Yet the couple ended up first in jail and then held inside a government shelter, even though they were victims of trafficking. That’s where they remain today with a few other workers from the Gig Peeling Factory, waiting to testify in a slow-moving court case while their former employers are free on bail. Angry and frustrated, they just want to go home.

“I feel like I’ve been victimized three times. Once in the shrimp shed, the second time in … jail and now again in the shelter,” Tin Nyo Win said on a mobile phone smuggled in by another Burmese worker.

“Even prisoners know how many years or months they will be in prison, but we don’t know anything about how many years or months we’ll be stuck here,” he added. “It’s worse than prison.”

Recently, Thailand was lifted off the U.S. State Department’s blacklist, where it had been listed for the past two years as one of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders alongside North Korea, Syria, Iran and others. Some activists saw the upgrade as a political move by Washington to appease an ally, and 21 labor, anti-trafficking and environmental groups expressed their disappointment in an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Thai government lobbied hard ahead of the announcement, saying new laws have been passed to help protect victims. The government also said that 241 human traffickers were sentenced in 2015, and 34 officials are facing prosecution for involvement or complicity in the trade.

But critics say low-level people or brokers from other countries are typically the ones jailed instead of Thai business owners, corrupt police or high-ranking officials.

“Debt bondage for migrants is still the norm, and police abuse and extortion happens on a daily basis all over the country,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok. “While it’s good that prosecutions are going up, the reality is that we’re still talking about the tip of the iceberg here.”

The country has been under international pressure to clean up its $7 billion annual seafood export industry, including the threat of a seafood import ban from the European Union. An Associated Press investigation last year uncovered a slave island with migrant fishermen locked in a cage and buried under fake Thai names. The reporting, which led to more than 2,000 men being freed, followed the slave-caught seafood to Thailand and on to American dinner tables.

The investigation also focused on the Gig Peeling shed in Samut Sakhon, just outside of Bangkok, where Tin Nyo Win and his wife, Mi San, were forced to work 16 hours a day. They had to rip the guts, heads and tails off shrimp that entered supply chains feeding some of America’s biggest companies, including Red Lobster, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and most major U.S. supermarkets. Many companies have said they are taking steps to prevent labor abuses.

Col. Prasert Siriphanapitat, the Samut Sakhon deputy police commander, said witness testimony began in April in the Gig shed case against three Thai defendants and two Burmese brokers. Only one Burmese suspect has been located. He added that new laws mandate quick prosecution of human trafficking, meaning the Gig case will likely be closed by the end of the year. But Tin Nyo Win said he and his wife have not spoken to a prosecutor or been informed about the case’s progress.

Suwalee Jaiharn, director of the country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons division, said Thailand’s eight shelters are there to protect undocumented workers and denied that those housed inside are prohibited from leaving. She added, however, that some victims of trafficking are more closely monitored if they are expected to testify in criminal cases.

“We are protection centers and not detention centers,” she said. “There is an exception when some victims are witnesses in human trafficking cases. We have to give them extra protection.”

Suwalee said Thailand’s laws allow victims to testify ahead of their trials so they can go home quickly, or stay and work in the country. But aid workers said these options are rarely made available to migrant workers, leaving victims to wait in facilities far from home.

“Somebody’s always ordering you, and you are always under watch by someone and having to get permission all the time. This is totally what trafficking victims would have gone through while they were being trafficked,” said Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, senior case adviser at the Bangkok-based nonprofit Project Issara, which assists trafficking victims. “It is very difficult for them to feel empowered and like their needs are being met.”

For the first few months that Tin Nyo Win and Mi San were in the shelter, they said they were not allowed to have a phone. They couldn’t leave the shelter unaccompanied. They couldn’t work.

“If victims see that when they come forward they are kept in government shelters but not given freedom to work and move around, then what incentive do they have to come forward?” said Susan Coppedge, the U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador.

Following a supervised interview with AP at the shelter, Tin Nyo Win spoke candidly on a call. He said restrictions eased a couple of months ago, and victims can now have a phone and go outside the compound unsupervised. However, only eight people from the Gig case are still in the shelter, after 12 undocumented workers ran away. Those who remain worry they will never be compensated for unpaid wages and the abuses they suffered.

“My sister is in another shelter. She is 17 years old, and we have no chance to see each other. I’ve asked permission to see her many times, but I’m not allowed,” said Hkin Tet Mun, 31, adding that phone calls to her sibling are also prohibited. “I’m worried about her, and my sister wants to stay with me.”

Win Kai, 19, said he’s also desperate to leave, but feels trapped.

“My family is so worried about me,” he said by phone. “I don’t want to stay in the shelter. Can you help me quickly?”

Tin Nyo Win’s wife, now seven months pregnant, rubs the growing bump under her bright flowered shirt. She yearns to have the baby at home. But her husband says he won’t go — even if it means missing the birth of his child.

“We want to show the boss that we are really victims, and we want to show this to the court,” he said. “We want to see justice carried out.”

Bodies of 40 tiger cubs found in Thai temple freezer

Forty dead tiger cubs were found on June 1 in a freezer at a Buddhist temple that operated as an admission-charging zoo, a national parks official said.

The discovery happened while authorities were removing mostly full-grown live tigers from the temple in western Kanchanaburi province following accusations that monks were involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals.

The cubs were found in a freezer where the temple staff kept food, said Anusorn Noochdumrong, an official from the Department of National Parks who has been overseeing the transfer of the temple’s 137 tigers to shelters. Since Monday, 60 have been tranquilized and removed.

“We don’t know why the temple decided to keep these cubs in the freezer,” Anusorn said. “We will collect these carcasses for DNA analysis.”

The cubs appeared to be up to a week old, he said. Authorities plan to file charges against the temple for illegally possessing endangered species, he said.

The temple’s Facebook page said in March that the temple’s former vet had decided in 2010 to stop cremating cubs that died soon after birth. Calls to the temple’s office were not answered.

The temple, a popular tourist attraction, has been criticized by animal rights activists because of allegations it is not properly set up to care for the animals and flouted regulations restricting the trade of tigers.

The monks resisted previous efforts to take away the tigers, but relented this week after police obtained a court order.

The temple recently made arrangements to operate as a zoo, but the plan fell through when the government determined that the operators failed to secure sufficient resources.

Did slaves peel your frozen shrimp? A guide to the issue and what to do

Enslaved migrant workers and children are ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.

Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?

A: That’s a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.

Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.

Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?

A: Thailand is one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.

Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?

A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world’s worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a “yellow card” warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.

Anti-gay marriage group gets surge in Facebook likes … from Thailand

The leading opponent of gay marriage in Washington has an astounding number of Facebook friends – in Bangkok, Thailand.

The blog PamsHouseBlend reported this week a surge in Facebook likes for Preserve Marriage Washington, the organization driving the campaign to overturn the state’s 2012 marriage equality law on election day. In a referendum on Nov. 6, voters are being asked whether they want to keep the law, which allows for same-sex couples to legally marry in the state.

The blog reports that Preserve Marriage Washington quickly went from about 6,000 likes to more than 15,000 likes. And the page’s Facebook statistics showed more than 6,000 people talking about the site’s posts, with the most common city for fans being Bangkok.

There is a market for buying and selling “likes” and other activity on Facebook and other social media sites.

Websites for freelancers invite them to bid on such jobs, which can pay less than 50 cents a like.

Thailand urged to investigate killings of lesbians, ‘toms’

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is calling on the government of Thailand to immediately investigate the killings of lesbians and gender-variant women who identify as “toms.”

IGLHRC has documented a pattern of slayings – at least 15 – since 2006.

In letters to Thailand’s inspector general of women’s affairs and family development, the commissioner general of the Royal Thai Police and the minister of foreign affairs, IGLHRC demanded that Thai police reclassify the killings from “crimes of passion, love gone wrong or the fault of the victims.”

“We strongly urge the Thai government order an immediate investigation of the killings and rapes of lesbians and toms in Thailand and release results of this investigation in a press conference that includes LGBT groups and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand,” said Cary Alan Johnson of IGLHRC.

The human rights group reported that victims were as young as 17 and that they had been stabbed multiple times, suffocated, strangled, shot and sexually assaulted.

In two cases, lesbian couples were killed by men who objected to same-sex relationships and felt rebuffed when their attempts at coercing one partner into a heterosexual relationship failed.

“The failure of the Thai government to prevent or properly investigate these killings are not only appalling, they are evidence of poor governance and blatant violation of international human rights law,” said Grace Poore, program coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands at IGLHRC.

In a November 2011 report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified murder, beatings, kidnappings, rape and sexual assault against LGBT people as homophobic and transphobic violence that “constitute a form of gender-based violence, driven by a desire to punish those seen as defying gender norms,” and that violence against LGBT people “tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes.”

The high commissioner of human rights explicitly instructed, “The state has an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish and redress deprivation of life” and to “investigate and prosecute all acts of targeted violence.”

Thailand has signed and ratified seven international treaties that guarantee respect for human rights, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

IGLHRC’s specific recommendations to the Thai government are that it:

• Order an immediate investigation of the killings and rapes of lesbians and toms and release the results at a press conference.

• Ensure that the Royal Thai Police and the Office of the Attorney General of Thailand bring to justice the perpetrators.

• Develop and implement a system of monitoring, recording and reporting future incidents of homophobic and transphobic violence.

• Promote an environment where LGBT people enjoy the rights to equal and adequate protection under the law, personal security and safety from violence, non-discrimination and freedom of expression and opinion

• Collaborate with the national human rights commission to conduct a public awareness campaign to end stigmatization, discrimination and violence against LGBT people.

• Provide resources to the LGBT groups to train and personnel in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

• Openly support the rights of LGBT people by enacting laws to implement the anti-discrimination clause of the 2007 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Thailand embraces lesbian chic

When she initially pitched the idea for Thailand’s first lesbian movie, it was quickly shot down. Producers called the premise distasteful and said movie viewers would find the story line disgusting.

After scrounging together funds for five years, director Saratsawadee Wongsomphet released “Yes or No” on an independent label to considerable acclaim.

The film’s recent success in outwardly tolerant but traditional-minded Thailand is part of a growing acceptance of lesbians under the influence of the Internet and fashion trends. These emboldened lesbians are not using Western-style activism. They are quietly pushing boundaries to find space for their lifestyle, harnessing pop culture and introducing a Thai variation of lesbian chic.

“It would have been risky to make this movie five years ago,” Saratsawadee said about her directorial debut. “Now people are daring to express themselves.”

Women in this Southeast Asian country are expected to be gentle, polite, even demure, and gay women in Thailand traditionally have been more discreet than gay men, but that is visibly changing.

Thai newsstands now carry “Tom Act,” the country’s first lesbian lifestyles magazine. A popular new clothing store in Bangkok touts itself as the first for “Tomboys,” the Thai term for the more conspicuous members of the lesbian community.

Pop charts include hit singles from Thailand’s first openly gay female singer, a waifish, androgynous 22-year-old known as Zee.

Thailand’s freewheeling, anything-goes reputation has served its tourism industry well, but Thai society is far more conservative than its tourist sex shows and transgender beauty pageants suggest.

Movies are censored for morality, women are often too modest to wear bathing suits on the beach, abortion is illegal and the government regularly censors websites deemed immoral. When it comes to homosexuality, Thailand is ambivalent but tolerant: Bangkok is known as gay-friendly, but politicians and high-profile public figures stick to an unstated “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of keeping their homosexuality hidden.

Concerns about offending Thai society prompted Saratsawadee to delicately depict the sole love scene between her leading women, a pair of college roommates, with a brief, fully clothed kiss.

“I was afraid nobody would want to see it,” said the 38-year-old, who is gay and has worked in the film industry for years, always wanting to do a film showing that lesbians are not “weirdoes” but regular people.

“I was afraid it would be censored, or would never be shown. I was afraid people would say it sends a bad message,” she said.

Saratsawadee never anticipated a nationwide release for her film, which hit screens in December to considerable media hype and modest but profitable box office returns. Then came the 40,000-member Facebook fan club, the viewers who thanked her for telling their life story. Last month, she was honored with a “Best Director” nomination at the Thai equivalent of the Oscars.

“The bubble is bursting,” says Anjana Suvarnananda, 53, who co-founded Thailand’s first and most outspoken lesbian activist group in the 1980s. “These young people are just doing their own thing and living their lives oblivious to discrimination – so that means they are not facing very much. It’s a very different picture from when I grew up.”

Another emblem of changing times is the glossy, 200-page Tom Act, a lesbian fashion magazine that creates “a space for us to express ourselves,” says editor-in-chief Khemanut Ronarut. She credits international fashion trends that make it cool to look androgynous with easing acceptance of gay women in Thailand.

“Normally, we choose to be quiet. But by doing this magazine, I’m taking a risk,” she said. The first issue in December 2007 sold about 1,000 copies. It now prints 50,000 copies per issue. “What makes a difference is people like me, trying to open people’s minds. Acceptance will exist when people try to introduce new ideas.”

The petite, spiky-haired designer Supamas Sirimoungkalavanit got the idea of making tailored clothes for “Tomboys” after getting fed up with shopping in the men’s department.

She launched her Tom Chic brand online in 2008 and opened a Bangkok boutique in January. Her best-selling item is the breast-binding “Tom Tank,” designed to flatten female curves. She sells about 10,000 a month with the help of two dozen distributors nationwide.

“When we first opened, some men would walk past and make snide comments,” said Supamas, 30, who was featured recently on a popular TV talk show about successful small businesses. “Now there are copycat brands online.”

The Internet has nurtured virtual communities in online forums that build confidence and camaraderie and now spill over into the real world, said the activist Anjana, who co-founded the lesbian group Anjaree in 1986 with three other women who kept their identities hidden.

“These young people are not making a political statement,” she said. “They are not rocking the boat, not directly challenging heterosexual norms, but they are making gentle changes that might one day lead to more.”

On a recent evening at Zeta, one of Bangkok’s few lesbian bars, a patron marveled at the surge of lesbian icons in mainstream pop culture.

“A decade ago, you would never have seen a movie about lesbians in Thailand. I would never have imagined a Tomboy singer,” said 24-year-old Sarunkorn Choksiripureenont, a drummer in an all-lesbian band. “It’s becoming fashionable now. You see lesbians everywhere.”

From AP reports

Lesbian chic hits Thailand’s pop culture

When she initially pitched the idea for Thailand’s first lesbian movie, it was quickly shot down. Producers called the premise distasteful and said movie viewers would find the story line disgusting.

After scrounging together funds for five years, director Saratsawadee Wongsomphet released “Yes or No” on an independent label to considerable acclaim.

The film’s recent success in outwardly tolerant but traditional-minded Thailand is part of a growing acceptance of lesbians under the influence of the Internet and fashion trends. These emboldened lesbians are not using Western-style activism. They are quietly pushing boundaries to find space for their lifestyle, harnessing pop culture and introducing a Thai variation of Lesbian Chic.

“It would have been risky to make this movie five years ago,” Saratsawadee said about her directorial debut. “Now people are daring to express themselves.”

Women in this Southeast Asian country are expected to be gentle, polite, even demure, and gay women in Thailand traditionally have been more discreet than gay men, but that is visibly changing.

Thai newsstands now carry “Tom Act,” the country’s first lesbian lifestyles magazine. A popular new clothing store in Bangkok touts itself as the first for “Tomboys,” the Thai term for the more conspicuous members of the lesbian community who act and dress like men.

Pop charts include hit singles from Thailand’s first openly gay female singer, a waifish, androgynously coifed 22-year-old known as Zee (pictured), who is typically described as “handsome.”

Thailand’s freewheeling, anything-goes reputation has served its tourism industry well, but Thai society is far more conservative than its tourist sex shows and transgender beauty pageants suggest.

Movies are censored for morality, women are often too modest to wear bathing suits on the beach, abortion is illegal and the government regularly censors websites deemed immoral. When it comes to homosexuality, Thailand is ambivalent but tolerant: Bangkok is known as gay-friendly but politicians and high-profile public figures stick to an unstated “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of keeping their homosexuality hidden.

Concerns about offending Thai society prompted Saratsawadee to delicately depict the sole love scene between her leading ladies, a pair of college roommates, with a brief, fully clothed kiss.

“I was afraid nobody would want to see it,” said the 38-year-old, who is gay and has worked in the film industry for years, always wanting to do a film showing that lesbians are not “weirdoes” but regular people.

“I was afraid it would be censored, or would never be shown. I was afraid people would say it sends a bad message,” she said.

Saratsawadee never anticipated a nationwide release for her film, which hit screens in December to considerable media hype and modest but profitable box office returns. Then came the 40,000-member Facebook fan club, the viewers who thanked her for telling their life story. Last month, she was honored with a “Best Director” nomination at the Thai equivalent of the Oscars.

“The bubble is bursting,” says Anjana Suvarnananda, 53, who co-founded Thailand’s first and most outspoken lesbian activist group in the 1980s. “These young people are just doing their own thing and living their lives oblivious to discrimination – so that means they are not facing very much. It’s a very different picture from when I grew up.”

Another emblem of changing times is the glossy, 200-page Tom Act, a lesbian fashion and lifestyles magazine that creates “a space for us to express ourselves,” says editor-in-chief Khemanut Ronarut. She credits international fashion trends that make it cool to look androgynous with easing public acceptance of gay women in Thailand.

“Normally, we choose to be quiet. But by doing this magazine, I’m taking a risk,” she said. The first issue in December 2007 sold about 1,000 copies. It now prints 50,000 copies per issue. “What makes a difference is people like me, trying to open people’s minds. Acceptance will exist when people try to introduce new ideas.”

Petite, spiky-haired designer Supamas Sirimoungkalavanit got the idea of making man-tailored clothes for “Tomboys” after getting fed up with shopping in the men’s department.

She launched her Tom Chic brand online in 2008 and opened a Bangkok boutique in January. Her best-selling item is the breast-binding “Tom Tank,” designed to flatten female curves. She sells about 10,000 a month with the help of two dozen distributors nationwide.

“When we first opened, some men would walk past and make snide comments,” said Supamas, 30, who was featured recently on a popular TV talk show about successful small businesses. “Now there are copycat brands online.”

The Internet has nurtured virtual communities in online forums that build confidence and camaraderie and are now spilling over into the real world, said the activist Anjana, who co-founded the lesbian group Anjaree in 1986 with three other women who kept their identities hidden. She says her Western-style approach to activism ruffled Thai society, which values non-confrontational behavior, and never sparked a civil rights-like movement for gay rights.

“These young people are not making a political statement,” she said. “They are not rocking the boat, not directly challenging heterosexual norms, but they are making gentle changes that might one day lead to more.”

On a recent evening at Zeta, one of Bangkok’s few lesbian bars, a patron marveled at the surge of lesbian icons in mainstream pop culture.

“A decade ago, you would never have seen a movie about lesbians in Thailand. I would never have imagined a Tomboy singer,” said 24-year-old Sarunkorn Choksiripureenont, a drummer in an all-lesbian band. “It’s becoming fashionable now. You see lesbians everywhere.”

From the Associated Press

image_-_news_-_int_-_zee