PARIS: Thailand went on a charm offensive in defense of its prawn industry this week, seeking to convince Europeans that it is responding to allegations of slavery and torture in its fisheries sector.
The fishing industry accounts for 40 percent of Thai exports of food products and is a mainstay of the economy.
But its image has been badly damaged by accounts of abuse of illegal immigrants held captive and forced into unpaid labor, sometimes on boats at sea for years on end without receiving any payment for their work.
Thailand pulled out the stops for the SIAL international food fair outside Paris this past week, sending a delegation replete with officials from the labor and fisheries ministries, plus police and anti-human trafficking experts as well as industry leaders.
They then travelled on to Brussels to lobby EU officials.
“We don’t deny there is a problem,” said Foreign Ministry official Sarun Charoensuwan at a special seminar on the subject.
“A lot of concrete measures are on their way.”
According to a June article by the British daily The Guardian, there is a lot to be done by Thailand’s prawn industry, the world’s largest, which sends about a quarter of its exports to the United States where they are known as shrimp, and 15 percent to Europe.