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Thai industry uses slavery, House told

April 27, 2015 ·  By (The Associated Press)

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Credit:(The Associated Press)
Mark Lagon (left), president of Freedom House, greets the Rev. Shay Cullen of the Preda Foundation as they testify Wednesday before a House committee on the fight against human trafficking.

WASHINGTON — Modern-day slavery persists around the world, including the abuse of fishermen in the Thai seafood industry whose catch can end up in U.S. markets, a congressional panel was told Wednesday.

“As has been reported for years, the Thai fishing industry is rife with forced labor, both on the high seas and within seafood processing and packing plants,” Mark Lagon, former State Department ambassador for trafficking in persons, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

Lagon, who now heads Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that advocates for human rights, said it remains to be seen whether President Barack Obama’s administration will impose sanctions it is authorized to deploy, which would bar Thai seafood from U.S. markets.

The State Department’s key weapon for combating human trafficking comes in a politically charged annual ranking in “tiers”— Tier 1 is best, 2 means more could be done, and 3 is a blacklist that can spark sanctions. The House global human-rights subcommittee urged the Obama administration to come down hard on those countries that violate human rights when it releases the report in June.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said China was prematurely upgraded to Tier 2 in 2014, and singled out Burma, Malaysia and Thailand as countries that need to do more to fight human trafficking across shared borders. Unless they’ve dramatically changed their law enforcement, prosecutions and investigations, several African countries face automatic downgrades this year.

Smith said the rankings spur lawmakers, law enforcement officials and advocates globally “to demand real, measurable change in countries struggling to fight slavery.”

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