Archive for June, 2014

June 29, 2014

Thai Food Companies Hit by U.S. Human Trafficking Downgrade

The Wall Street Journal - Market & Finance

Thai Food Companies Hit by U.S. Human Trafficking Downgrade

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Investors are dumping shares in some of Thailand’s largest food companies as the shrimp-fishing titan faces the possibility of U.S. sanctions following a furor over the use of forced and child labor in its fishing supply chains.

Shares in agri-businesses such as Charoen Pokphand Foods PCL CPF.TH +0.94%, headed by tycoon Dhanin Chearavanont, have fallen sharply since U.K. newspaper the Guardian published an expose on June 10 detailing labor abuses in the Thai seafood industry. CP Foods is down 6.1%, Thai Union Frozen Products PCL TUF.TH 0.00% has fallen 3.6% and GFPT PCL GFPT.TH +0.78% 1.5%. In the same period, the SET benchmark stock index has risen 0.8%.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month downgraded Thailand’s ranking to the lowest level in its annual human trafficking report, alongside countries like North Korea and Cuba.

Thailand exports over $2 billion worth of shrimp each year, much of it to the U.S. It is the world’s largest shrimp exporter.

Maybank Kim Eng said in a note dated Tuesday that worse could be in store for the Thai seafood industry, flagging the possibility of an “increased risk of non-tariff barriers” for the industry. If the U.S. bans Thai seafood imports, it is “likely that the [European Union] and/or Japan will impose a ‘sympathetic’ ban, overtly or covertly,” it adds. A full ban on Thai shrimp exports could cut nominal GDP by almost 1%.

The Thai Frozen Foods Association has said that there is no use of illegal labor in the industry. CP Foods said in response to the Guardian report it would audit its entire supply chain and condemned all aspects of human trafficking and slavery in a statement on June 16. Thai Union Frozen said it will join with Thailand’s trade association and industry bodies to work on an agreement with the U.S. on possible sanctions. The company “has made it very clear to our suppliers that any misconduct in relation to human trafficking will result in immediate termination of trade relationships with no compromise,” it said in an emailed statement to The Wall Street Journal.

Some foreign supermarket chains such as France’s Carrefour SA CA.FR +0.65% and Norway’s ICA have already suspended CP Foods from their list of shrimp suppliers.

CP Foods and GFPT did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment for this article.

Maybank adds that CP Foods is likely to suffer most from the fallout because of the contribution of shrimp to its total revenues and its greater profitability than livestock. “While further weakness in the shrimp-related business may not have a significant impact on CPF’s revenue, it will affect the profitability of the Group,” Maybank said.


EU suspends free trade talks with Thailand

Shrimp, Thailand. Photo: Harnpon Juapetch

The European Union has suspended its free trade negotiations with Thailand in light of the military coup and continuing military regime in the country.

The suspension comes as Thailand faces a loss of all preferential tariff agreements on shrimp and tuna exports to the EU as of next year.

“Concerning the negotiations on the EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement, let me be very clear: we have cancelled the next negotiating round tentatively scheduled for July, and it goes without saying that we do not intend to have any further negotiating rounds against the current background,” a spokesperson for the European trade commission told Undercurrent News.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers announced that all official visits to and from Thailand will be suspended and all partnership agreements shelved, in a bid to pressure the ruling National Council for Peace and Order to restore democracy.

The EU and Thailand concluded a second round of talks towards an FTA last September, and a third round had been proposed for July.

The FTA has been seen as a solution to Thailand’s loss of preferential agreements with the EU since this year, with higher tariffs due next year including for shrimp and tuna exports.

Thailand has already seen its tariffs to the EU go up this year, and next year will lose all its preferential tariffs under the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) as the World Bank still classifies it as a middle-to-upper tier income country.

This means the tariff on raw shrimp from Thailand will go from 4.2% to 12% in 2015. Under graduation, the tariff on processed shrimp — excluding cooked, shell-on –went up a year earlier, at the start of 2014, from 7% to 20%.

For tuna, Thailand will see its tariff go up as well next year but more mildly, from 21.5% to 24%.

Spanish canners have denounced the FTA talks and warned of the threat it would cause to the European tuna industry. However, Thai processors have pointed out that they have already lost significant advantages, including through tariff-free competition form the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

In a comment, a spokesperson for Thai Union Frozen Products said the company has been keeping working with customers to discuss the implications of the EU’s actions.

“As per our understanding, EU actions are more of specific measurements on diplomatic relations rather than commercial restrictions. All measures against Thailand are believed to be non-trade related,” said the spokesperson.

“However, we have been keeping meaningful dialogues and working closely with our customers and key stakeholders ensuring they understand the details and actual implications of the issue with EU actions.”

The spokesperson said the group was joining with the Trade Associations and Federations Industries of Thailand to support the Thai government in working out solutions for Thailand.

She further stressed that Thai Union adheres to strict labor practices.

“Thai Union Group has made it very clear to our suppliers that any misconduct in relation to human trafficking will result in immediate termination of trade relationships with no compromise.”

“We will continue to provide our utmost support to current Thai administration and the upcoming interim government to swiftly construct a forceful action plan to rigidly enforce all applicable laws to freeing victims, preventing trafficking and bringing traffickers to justice and serve the way forward in supporting industries, organizations and NGOs in order to rectify Thailand’s human rights violations and labor malpractices of any kind and ultimately hope improve Thailand image as a whole.”



Thai agencies preparing counter-reports for US

June 25, 2014, 5:39 pm

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Thai government officials are planning to head to the US next month to counter allegations made by the US “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) report and reports by civic groups and foreign media alleging Thailand’s fishing and seafood industry uses forced labor and slavery.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry is preparing a report to explain the issue within the next three months, before sanctions are imposed by the US, reports the Bangkok Post.

Thailand’s Commerce Ministry is also countering the allegations with a plan to lead a delegation to the US next month to clarify working conditions in the seafood industry to officials and consumer group.

Meanwhile, the private sector’s trade groups have plans to present to the National Fisheries Institute on how Thailand’s operations comply with rules laid down by the International Labor Rights Organization (ILO).

The US is a key export destination. It buys 22% or BHT22 billion of Thailand’s tuna exports. It is also expected to import about 38% of the 200,000 tons of shrimp Thailand plans to ship out this year.

Shrimp and tuna processors and exporters in Thailand are also challenging non-governmental agencies and importers worldwide to see for themselves what the labor conditions are like in their fishing industry.

Associations such as the Thai Fishery Producers Coalition contend that they have been working for years to improve the working conditions in the industry to make sure there is no child labor or forced labor in the supply chain.

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June 29, 2014

Moderm-day slavery: trafficked Vietnamese girls sold into marriage in China


Brides for sale in Vietnam and girls sold into marriage in China

A shortage of brides in China is putting young women in neighbouring countries at risk of being trafficked
AFP in Lao Cai, Sunday 29 June 2014, 04.00 EDT

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Vietnam China woman

Kiab, an ethnic Hmong teenage girl, looks out of the window at a centre for trafficked women in the northern Vietnamese city of Lao Cai. Photograph: AFP/Getty

When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride.

The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape from her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.

“My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes – he sold his own sister to China,” Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town of Lao Cai.

Vulnerable women in countries close to China – not only Vietnam but North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Burma – are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say.

China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children. As a result, millions of men cannot find Chinese brides – a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.

The Lao Cai shelter is home to a dozen girls from various ethnic-minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides. “I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me,” Kiab said.

Since trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and probably underestimates the scale of the problem, according to experts. But rights workers across south-east Asia say they are witnessing systematic trafficking of women into China for forced marriages.

“This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in New York.

Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 (£2,944) as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and chief executive of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007.

“The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy,” he said.

It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage.

Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350km (839 miles), marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women.

“It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us,” said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the border illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend.

In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear. “I worry so much about it, as do all the mothers in the villages, but it has happened to a lot of girls already,” said Phan Pa May, a community elder from the Red Dao ethnic group. “I have one daughter. She’s already married, but I’m worried about my granddaughter. We always ask where she is going, and tell her not to talk on the phone or trust anyone.”

Activists working to combat trafficking in Vietnam say police and authorities take the problem “very seriously”.

The shelter in Lao Cai opened in 2010 and has helped scores of female victims. “There is nothing at home for these girls, not even enough food to eat,” said director Nguyen Tuong Long, referring to the dire poverty that is another key driver. But he said he believes the number of cases is falling.

May Na, from the Hmong ethnic group, was 13 when her uncle took her across the border and forced her to marry a Chinese man. “I could not accept it. They left me at home alone and I climbed over the wall and ran away. I was wandering for more than a day, lost, sleeping in the streets, crying,” she said.

Eventually, Na ended up at a police station, but because she spoke neither Chinese nor Vietnamese – only her native Hmong – it took police a month to figure out what had happened and return her to Vietnam.

Now 16, Na, the eldest of five children, is learning Vietnamese at the Lao Cai centre. Her uncle has been arrested, she says, but she has chosen not to return to her family. “I was so sad when I was in China. It was a painful experience for me,” she said.

The government has launched education programmes in rural areas near the border, warning young women not to trust outsiders.

Anti-trafficking groups in Vietnam say it is difficult to warn girls of the risks when it is often a family member or friend carrying out the deception. Instead, they want harsher penalties for traffickers – including, for example, prosecutions at local level to raise awareness in villages of potential punishments to deter people from trying.


June 28, 2014

Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed


Laos takes ‘courteous’ approach to next Mekong dam project, agrees to consult before work starts


June 28, 2014

Updated 2 hours 31 minutes ago

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Fishing at rapids in the Siphandone area of the Mekong River in Laos

Fishing at rapids in Siphandone area, site of proposed Don Sahong hydro-electric dam.  Photo: International Rivers

Laos has agreed to consult its neighbours before starting construction of a second controversial dam on the Mekong River.

It’s already going ahead with the much bigger Xayaburi dam to supply power to China, despite opposition from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Agreement to allow environmental assessments and for a formal consultation process on the proposed Don Sahong dam was reached at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission in Bangkok.

The commission comprises Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Laos accepted environmental and other studies for the Xayaburi dam after pressure from its neighbours, but went ahead with construction even while they were being conducted.

But this time Vientiane has given an assurance work will not start during the six-month consultation process, describing the move as a “courtesy”.

The Don Sahong project is the second of 11 hydroelectric dams planned for the Mekong mainstream, which has raised concerns about the impact on the environment and livelihoods of millions of people.

It will generate 260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for export to Thailand and Cambodia compared with Xayaburi’s 1,260 megawatts, around 95 percent of which will go to Thailand.

The environmental group International Rivers is among those to have welcomed the decision.

But it says further action is needed “to ensure that the rapid progress of dam building on the Mekong … does not go unchecked”.

Officials say recommendations resulting from the studies of the Don Sahong project would not be binding on Laos.


Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed

Posted on 27 June 2014

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Two Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins spotted at Tbong Kla deep pool
© WWF- Cambodia/ Gerad Ryan

WWF welcomes the Lao Government’s decision to have the Don Sahong hydropower project undergo a formal consultation process, a decision likely to delay construction of the project.

The consultation process requires Laos to hold inter-governmental consultations before proceeding with the dam, and conduct and share studies on the project’s environmental and the social impacts. The process will take at least six months to complete.

“Laos is now promising to do what they already signed up to under the Mekong agreement, and should have done months ago” said Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong’s lead on sustainable hydropower. “Their decision to consult on the Don Sahong project, and share critical details about the project’s impacts, comes after intense pressure from neighbouring countries. It is critical that pressure is maintained to ensure Laos delivers on their promise.”

In September last year, Laos announced its decision to proceed with the Don Sahong dam, bypassing the Mekong River Commision’s (MRC) consultation process.

The much-criticised project was discussed at the June 26-27 meeting of the MRC – an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four Lower Mekong nations — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Don Sahong dam threatens the Mekong’s critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and will block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration, putting the world’s largest inland fishery at risk. Close to 200,000 people have signed WWF’s petition calling on the dam builder, Mega First, to pull out of the project.

“We thank people around the world who signed the WWF’s petition to stop the Don Sahong dam,” added Goichot. “Mega First would do well to listen to the growing voices of opposition to this disastrous project and reconsider their engagement.”

The Don Sahong dam is the second dam on the Lower Mekong mainstem, following the controversial Xayaburi dam that Laos has begun constructing despite opposition from neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The Mekong River Commission’s joint decision-making process was effectively broken in 2012 when Laos decided unilaterally to proceed with Xayaburi dam, against the express wishes of Vietnam and Cambodia,” added Goichot.

“There is currently little faith in the MRC’s process to ensure joint decisions are made for the benefit of all Mekong nations. If Laos fails to be held to account, the MRC will soon lose its legitimacy and 60 million people living in the Mekong basin will suffer.”

Crowd of children with Pra or River catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). River catfish are closely related to the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), a critically endangered Mekong endemic specieis. The Mekong giant catfish migrates from the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River at the end of the rainy season each year and a dam like Don Sahong would block their migration.
© Zeb Hogan / WWF-Canon



June 27, 2014

The West might regret forcing Thailand into a corner

Time - Logo


The U.S. Is Freezing the Thai Junta Out of Military Exercises

By @charliecamp6ell

June 27, 2014

4 absurdly harmless acts now criminalized by Thailand’s military rulers

4 absurdly harmless acts now criminalized by Thailand’s military rulers

In junta-run Bangkok, even sandwiches can be interpreted as threats to the state.

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Thailand book reading protest

Thailand book reading protest. He was later arrested. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul. AFP/Getty Images

BANGKOK — One month ago, after Thailand’s army seized control of the nation, the instructions were quite clear: Praise us or keep your mouth shut.

Dissent is now punishable by detention in military-run Thailand. Those who have directly condemned the coup in public have been summoned to military camps for “attitude adjustment.”

The army has instructed citizens to feel “happy” about their takeover. The generals have hoped to sway them by screening the World Cup for free and holding festivals featuring ponies, free food and camo-clad dancer girls.

At the same time, officials goad citizens to turn in co-workers expressing anti-coup sentiments. Come across a photo on Facebook or Instagram in which a Thai citizen criticizes the coup? Police will dole out $15 if you rat out the offender.

Thais dismayed by the coup know speaking out is dangerous. So they’ve resorted to a range of silent and subtle protest techniques, each designed to determine just how petty the authorities can be.

“Their offense? Possessing sandwiches with ill intent.”

They have arrived at this approach the hard way. Thailand’s military and police appear willing to drag away protesters for the most absurdly minor offenses. The list now includes:

Wearing the wrong shirt: T-shirts have repeatedly landed protesters in military detention. The offending shirts aren’t scribbled up with slogans urging bloody uprising. One simply read “PEACE PLEASE” and was worn by a Belgian man at a Bangkok traffic circle briefly used as a rally site until troops drove protesters away. This week, a Thai woman in her 70s was arrested at a temple for wearing a shirt that simply said “Respect my Vote!”

Eating a sandwich: Since early June, student pro-democracy activists have handed out free sandwiches and staged quiet picnics in lieu of holding protests. Surely, the junta can’t arrest them for eating sandwiches, right?

Wrong. The sandwich activists announced a “picnic” on June 22 outside a glitzy Bangkok mall. On cue, a young Thai man showed up that afternoon. He pulled out a sandwich with trembling fingers and ate it in silence.

He was promptly surrounded by authorities and hauled off. Six others, according to the BBC, were also detained. Their offense? Possessing sandwiches with ill intent. Officers have previously thwarted “sandwich parties” in advance. Thai headlines have even warned that eating sandwiches with anti-coup intent is a criminal act.

Reading “1984” in public: The young sandwich-eating Thai was also reading 1984, the George Orwell masterpiece about a civil servant who tries to rebel against a dystopian tyrannical state. Previous gatherings in which Thais gathered on sidewalks to silently leaf through the book have gone undisturbed by authorities. But any future public readings could lead to more arrests.

Throwing up the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute: In the “Hunger Games” science-fiction series, the subjects of a cruel authoritarian regime raise three fingers to signal their dissent. Anti-coup Thais later adopted the salute and began flashing it in Bangkok.This form of protest has tactical advantages: You don’t have to carry around an incriminating sign, book or sandwich. But plain-clothes police have still managed to spot and nab Thai saluters.

Arrests for anti-coup dissent keep mounting. At least 500 to 700 people have been summoned or arrested by the junta, according to estimates provided by the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Detainees include deposed politicians, activists, journalists and small-time street protesters.

“In many cases, their heads are covered with black plastic bags so they won’t know their detention center’s location,” said Yaowalak Anuphan, an attorney with the group. Troops often refuse to reveal detainees’ locations to worried relatives, she said. But most are freed after several days worth of psy-ops sessions with military officers. “This is commonly known as an ‘attitude adjustment,’” she said.

Instead of gradually easing martial law, Thailand’s military appears keen on smothering even the meekest expressions of dissent. The generals insist their tight grip on society is necessary to “Restore Happiness to the People,” which has become the junta’s de facto slogan.

A top junta spokesmen, Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, even urged reporters to stop calling their power seizure a “coup.” He prefers “military intervention.” Forced detentions? Those should be called “military accommodation,” he said.

But Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission — which now answers to the army — has told the army that harsh tactics will only “seed further resistance in society.”

“Thailand is like a sick man with cancer. But martial law is a very powerful dose of medicine,” said Nirun Pitakwatchara, a physician who heads the commission. “As a professional doctor myself, I know an overly strong dose of medicine can kill the patient.”



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