Govt pledges to ban forced prison labour after expose

Govt pledges to ban forced prison labour after expose

A warning sign is posted at Bangkok Remand Prison during a media trip on July 11, 2019. (File photo: Patipat Janthong, Bangkok Post)
A warning sign is posted at Bangkok Remand Prison during a media trip on July 11, 2019. (File photo: Patipat Janthong, Bangkok Post)

The Corrections Department has pledged to eradicate forced labour in its prisons and pay a decent wage to inmates who opt to work, following an expose by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The reports into prison labour, published in December, found inmates at some Thai prisons were forced to make fishing nets for private companies under threat of punishment, including beatings and delayed release.

"Following criticism of Thai prisoners being forced to produce fishing nets for private companies… the Corrections Department will come up with measures to allow prisoners to work voluntarily," the department said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The type of work has to be safe and must not cause harm towards prisoners."

New committees will be formed to oversee reform in each of the country's 143 jails, according to the statement, and set inmates' pay in line with the minimum wage of each province.

Thailand's minimum wage ranges from 313 baht-336 baht per day, depending on the province.

Most of the prisoners who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation said they were earning the equivalent of about 30 baht a month, though some said they received no pay at all.

The Freedom Fund, an anti-slavery organisation, welcomed the promised reform, but said it remains unclear how the Corrections Department will ensure transparency.

"So far, no one has been able to gain access to prisoners," said its programme adviser Roisai Wongsuban.

"This issue is no longer just about Thailand. The department must be able to reassure international buyers through independent inspections and public disclosure of contracts between prisons and companies."

Last month, a coalition of human rights groups submitted a petition to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the largest US federal law enforcement agency, calling for a halt to imports of nets that may have been produced using prison labour by two Thai companies.

Under the US Tariff Act, goods made using forced or prison labour are barred from entering the country, and the CBP has the authority to issue detention orders against such goods and prevent their sale in the market. 

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