Led by Winrock International and supported by the corporate sustainability and global development consultancy Resonance, the USAID Asia Counter-Trafficking in Persons (USAID Asia CTIP) and the USAID Thailand Counter-Trafficking in Persons (USAID Thailand CTIP) programs are driving positive change in the oft-maligned Thai seafood and fishing industry by partnering with Mars Petcare to support sustainable and ethical practices. The partnership is piloting a communication technology to improve connectivity and safety for fishers while at sea, establishing an effective response protocol for the industry, and promoting industry adoption of ethical recruitment practices.
“Innovative, sustained partnerships are key to advancing respect for rights in the Thai fishing sector. Our collaboration with USAID is supporting affordable ways for fishermen to stay connected at sea, which can help to improve working conditions. Our focus is on identifying solutions that have positive impact and that can be taken to scale across the industry,” said Marika McCauley Sine, Vice-President, Global Sustainability Petcare.
Winrock recruited 20 “early adopter” fishing vessels to test-run the technology, with 45 estimated total users (two to three users per vessel). Vessel owners recognize that the new solution enhances their business communication as well as workers’ safety and well-being by keeping them connected. This pilot on vessels began using the technology in November in the Andaman Sea, off the southern coast of Thailand.
“USAID/RDMA supports efforts to combat trafficking in persons through collaboration and engagement with stakeholders and the private sector. The Countering Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) program’s communication at sea application marks a significant partnership with the private sector through innovative technology at an affordable cost, with the goal of protecting the most vulnerable populations, especially migrants and fishers at sea,” said USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia’s Mission Director, Steven G. Olive, Ph.D.
To establish an effective response mechanism to act on worker needs and reports, Winrock set up a Migrant Workers Development Center in Phuket in early 2020 with its grantee, the Diocesan Social Action Centre. This fisher center supports the connectivity-at-sea pilot by responding to incoming communications from workers on vessels, providing information about worker’s rights to vessel workers and owners remotely and in the port, and serving as a resource on fair labor for relevant stakeholders.
“This partnership between Winrock International and Mars Petcare is a perfect illustration of how joining forces with the private sector can contribute to the safety and welfare of fishers and their protection from exploitation in practical, tangible ways,” Winrock International President and CEO Rodney Ferguson said.
The partnership has also made it possible to conduct research and stakeholder consultations on the recruitment of fishers into the Thai fishery industry. The team plans to leverage blockchain technology to support migrants’ applications for legal work documentation in Thailand. This regularization pilot, which began in late 2020, facilitates effective pathways for migrant fishers to legally stay and work in Thailand and be afforded full protection under the law, thus reducing their vulnerability to exploitation.
USAID Asia CTIP, USAID Thailand CTIP, and Mars Petcare hope to use lessons from this partnership to promote a pre-competitive, industry-wide effort to improve the safety and well-being of workers on fishing vessels and reduce their vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation in Thailand and beyond. Lessons learned from this partnership and connectivity-at-sea pilot will be shared in the coming months.
“This collaboration is a testament to the positive impact that government, private sector, and NGOs can have when they work together to achieve mutual objectives,” Resonance Founder and CIO Steve Schmida said. “Fair labor in seafood supply chains makes sense for everyone but is next to impossible to tackle unilaterally. This partnership is critical to strengthening supply chain sustainability and promoting worker well-being.”
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