Support 100 years of independent journalism.

6 February 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:46am

The plight of Thailand’s save fishermen on the BBC World Service

As part of the World Service's Freedom 2014 series they are communicating in that pragmatic, low-temperature World Service way the call of workers' rights abuses in Thailand.

By Antonia Quirke

Freedom 2014: Thailand’s Slave Fishermen
BBC World Service

“A reek of fish is in the air. I’m among piles of nets …” Becky Palmstrom, an occasional contributor to From Our Own Correspondent from Burma, presented a documentary about slave labour on Thai fishing boats (25 January, 9am) as part of the BBC World Service’s Freedom 2014 season. Flitting between Siamese, Burmese and English, she interviewed a Thai captain and some of his illegal immigrant crew. The captain readily admitted, “Men have to be forced on to the boat. They really don’t want to go on the boats.”

A government minister sighed that of the 60,000 fishing boats thronging Thai waters, less than 20,000 are registered, the rest largely crewed by men and boys trafficked from Burma. Fishermen spoke of whippings with stingray tails, sick and injured workers thrown overboard to be eaten by sharks, hands and legs broken as punishment for attempting to escape. Most are never paid. Some might earn $30 for five years’ work.

This information was delivered in that pragmatic, low-temperature World Service way – putting in the brutal facts but never allowing them to lure the programme into dramatics. No awkward scrap of voice-over recalled the conventions of exposé documentaries and Palmstrom didn’t shake with bottled-up intensity when speaking to officials who had clearly spent years approving every kind of outrageous deal and arrangement. One said, “The problem is if the workers are legal – registered and with ID cards – then they know they can get a better deal elsewhere. So what we want is for the papers to say they are legal but also say that they can only work on fishing boats …”

This is part of a three-month season from around the world “considering what freedom looks like today”; it includes a piece about Japan’s and China’s troubled history, a documentary on exiled Persian musicians in Dubai and an investigation into hate campaigns launched on Twitter by senior Turkish politicians. The cuts-savaged station continues to deliver news that is beyond the ken of most mortals and, without pomp or explicit provocation, puts it in our reach.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy