Tuna worker study discredited

There are so many contentious, even self serving “facts” to be found on anti-trafficking blogs that I think the best path to understanding trafficking will come from solid, quality academic research into this subject.  I think if Harvard University reported some facts, whatever those facts were, they would get respect.  It’s Harvard for God’s sake!  Right?  With that in mind I was surprised by an amazing news article in the Bangkok Post worth reporting to you.  “Expert discredits tuna worker study” March 13, 2014.  Let me explain what happened next.

Thailand is a large country (population about the same as France) and quite wealthy and growing as so many Asian countries are now.  One of the most highly regarded universities in Thailand is Chulalongkorn University, AKA Chula.  Okay, I’ll say it.  This university could be considered the Harvard of Thailand.

The Study – – 

Here is what Chula did.  Chula has an Asian Research Centre for Migration, a part of the Institute of ASIAN Studies.  Over several months a team interviewed 527 Myanmar, Laotian, and Cambodian workers in 13 tuna food manufacturers.  That is a big study.

The Results – – 

Results say the workers were employed legally.  They paid between 5,000 and 20,000 Thai baht for job placement.  That’s about $179 to $700.  (Are the recruiters traffickers, or are they recruiters?  What are you willing to pay to get a job?)

The study determined that these workers did not face abuse or sexual harassment.  They were not victims of child labor or forced labor.  They were paid the legal minimum wage or more and also received over time pay.

Most important of all 87% of those tune industry workers interviewed were satisfied with their work, and 95% did not want to change their job.

Workers received explanations of Thai law in their native languages.  The director of the Asian Research Centre for Migration was pleased that 98% of the enterprises studied obeyed laws and international conventions.  Neither child nor forced labor was found.

This sounds like great news.  Just what we want to hear, right?  So, why is it in this blog about trafficking?

First, yes it is good news, but good news is often under reported.  It is important for the general public to hear the good news if the issue of trafficking is going to receive its proper balance,

Second, the anti-trafficking industry’s mission is to attack the horrible issue of labor trafficking as they want you to see it and as being modern day slavery.  For this reason no good news is good for themOnly bad news furthers their mission and brings in donations to stop that horrible modern day slavery that is known, just known, to exist throughout the fishing industry.  Are you following me?

The Punch Line – – 

A man by the name of Andy Hall, by name seemingly a non-Thai of unclear allegiance and association, disputed this research.  He derided the quality of the research and claimed to have personal experience with 14-17 year old fishing industry workers.  He claimed that fishing industry workers have problems with their recruitment fees and sometimes their passports are held by others.

The title of the newspaper article calls Mr Hall an “expert” – and he may be in his own way – but there is no accreditation to explain his expertise.  As is so often the case, one person asking a few questions becomes the story when the real story is that this fine university did proper research and had good news to share.

My angry rejoinder – – 

Well good for you Mr. Hall, whoever the hell you are.  More hearsay evidence is helpful if you already know everything and you feast on bad news.

When a top notch academic association spends six months on quality research and its report, why shouldn’t we just ignore it and believe hearsay evidence instead?  But isn’t this the kind of research we expect from academia.  Shouldn’t we be trying to sort real facts from zealous  propaganda?

Anti-trafficking blogs are rife with “facts” based on the someone’s common knowledge or what someone thought he/she saw.  In this way zealots are often “taught” these same facts and so the story ratchets up with each re-telling.

I am going to trust the academic research of Chula University, Thailand’s academic Harvard, because somewhere along the line real facts stand out from the baloney that puts the issue of trafficking so out of balance with reality.

What do you think?  Speak up Mr. Hall, and by the way, who the hell are you?  You are welcome to answer that in a comment.

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