The synod has formalised its working relationship with the Seafood Importers Association of Australasia (SIAA) to “work together for the elimination of human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and the worst forms of child labour from the seafood industry.”
The moderator, Dan Wootton, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SIAA.
It states: “Both parties acknowledge these criminal activities exist in only a very small part of the global seafood industry.
“However, where they do exist, besides the violations of basic human rights they inflict, they damage the reputation of the seafood industry as a whole and can distort the operation of a free market.
“Thus, they can have negative impacts on seafood operations that are obeying local labour laws and that are providing decent working conditions for their workers.”
The SIAA has been the key Australian seafood industry body encouraging the Thai seafood industry to take the necessary steps to stamp out human trafficking and forced labour in the parts of the industry where it does exist. It has been working in collaboration with the synod since 2010.
“It’s our ambition to be a large part of the solution to these enormous social welfare problems, by putting systems in place to ensure safe and decent jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Norm Grant, executive chairman of the SIAA, said.
“The industry has been largely successful in achieving that but the task remains to eliminate criminal traffickers in the labour supply, and rogue fishing boat operators who work, like pirates, in and around the legitimate seafood trade.
“There is no place for them in today’s mainstream industry but, like many criminal activities, it will be an ongoing struggle to drive them out. We are pleased to have the understanding and support of the church in doing that.”
Director of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, Dr Mark Zirnsak, said that while there are still reports of murders and severe abuse on parts of the Thai fishing fleet, the JIM unit had yet to identify any Australian importers buying product caught on the Thai fishing fleet.
Although Austrlalia imports large amount of tuna from Thailand, the fish are caught on non-Thai fishing vessels and processed in Thailand.
“Our biggest concern is fish used in imported cat food, as its origins are the hardest to trace,” Dr Zirnsak said. “We are continuing to work with the SIAA to make sure all Australian importers of seafood take steps to ensure their products are free of these severe human rights abuses.”