The Issara Institute is an independent NGO not-for-profit corporation based in Thailand tackling issues of trafficking and forced labour through data, technology, partnership, and innovation.
In September 2014, Issara brought together a coalition of 10 UK retailers and seafood importers to launch the Seafood Coalition Pilot, intended to identify and address risks of human trafficking and labour abuses in partner seafood supply chains. As a condition of signing on, these businesses disclosed their seafood supply chain information, and have asked their suppliers throughout the seafood supply chain (processors, fishmeal plants, fisheries, etc.) to work with the Issara team. A Strategic Partners Programme was launched in January 2016. The programme will continue to work with retailer and supplier partners, as well as local businesses, to conduct supply chain analysis and make improvements where issues are found. The Issara Institute's Focus on Labour Issues in the Thai Fishing Industry series was launched in late 2016 and aimed to provide a holistic and reliable set of analyses regarding labour issues in the Thai commercial fishing sector, with a view to finding practical solutions that engage the private sector in a substantive and constructive way In addition, Issara is running a series of action-oriented Working Groups on the topics of: Slave Free Recruitment Systems, Innovations in Victim Protection, the Intersection between Seafood Sustainability and Labour, and Technological Solutions to Trafficking. Each Working Group convenes a series of experts in the field and is trialling new, solution-oriented ways of tackling issues of ethical sourcing in global supply chains. There are a number of publications, programmes and briefings (see links below):
- Inclusive Labour Monitoring™ (ILM) method is at the core of Issara's work, bringing together Issara Labs research and analytics, worker empowerment, and strategic partnerships. Developed as a cost-effective, more accurate alternative to social audits in identifying and addressing labour rights issues, our approach revolves around two key mechanisms: inclusivity, and continuous monitoring of labour conditions. Where audits provide a momentary snapshot, and often fail to identify serious labour rights issues, ILM allows for the continuous monitoring of partner supply chains through direct engagement with workers who report issues and seek assistance through the Issara hotline.
- Golden Dreams: 'Yelp-Like' App for Workers. In January 2017, with the support of USAID and Walmart Foundation, Issara Institute launched Golden Dreams - a Burmese-language smartphone app targeting current and prospective migrant workers. It is a platform for learning and exchanging information, reviews, ratings, comments, and advice about employers, recruiters, and service providers, in both home and destination countries.
- Freedom of Choice programme. Issara Institute is the first NGO in the world to trial unconditional cash transfers for trafficking victims. Launched in April 2015 with the support of Anesvad Foundation and Equitas, Issara is pioneering this new approach to empowering victims, giving them the knowledge, options, and resources they need to shape their own futures.
Publications Focus on labour issues in the Thai fishing industry series:
- Paper 1. Current and Potential Impacts of Legal Reforms on Businesses and Workers in Thailand's Fishing Industry. October 2016. The paper aims to provide an updated analysis of the changing legal and regulatory landscape in Thailand with regard to the fishing industry, for the benefit of the full range of stakeholders engaged on labour issues in the Thai fishing industry. This paper examines in greater detail the key legislative changes and their impact on business, including key improvements, key challenges for implementation, and specific details regarding Port-In, Port-Out (PIPO) and at-sea inspection.
- Paper 2. Not in the same boat. Jan 2017. The International Justice Mission (IJM) and the Issara Institute surveyed Burmese and Cambodian current and former fishermen living in Thailand. Of the 260 fishermen from Myanmar and Cambodia the research showed 38% were clearly trafficked and another 49% possibly trafficked. Only 13% reported fair labour conditions at sea and no exploitative recruitment, it said. Three-quarters reported working at least 16 hours a day, and only 11% said they were paid more than 9,000 baht (US$272) per month, the legal monthly minimum wage in Thailand. 14.1% were physically abused, and 31.5% witnessed a crewmate's abuse at sea; and 76.2% accrued debt prior to even beginning work (either to an employer, broker, or net supervisor).
- Paper 3. From Trafficking to Post-Rescue: Insights from Burmese Fishers on Coercion and Deception in (Anti) Trafficking Processes. July 2017. Provides a deep-dive on insights from 15 Burmese men who were trafficked into forced labour conditions on Thai fishing vessels, and who were subsequently rescued, "assisted," and re-integrated back into Burmese society. Critical reflections on the rescue and reintegration processes lead to recommendations on how such men could be better empowered and supported as they rebuild their futures.
- Paper 4. Eliminating Human Trafficking from the Thai Fishing Industry: Perspectives of Thai Commercial Fishing Vessel Owners. Jan 2018. Provides critical analysis on potential solutions to labour issues in the Thai fishing sector from the perspective of 75 Thai fishing vessel owners, who share their experiences, opinions, and challenges regarding what needs to happen to eliminate trafficking from the Thai fishing industry.
- Fee-free recruitment initiatives. Sept 2016. A landscape analysis of fee-free recruitment initiatives and employer pays recruitment models, this paper explores the current discussion around fee-free recruitment, including linkages between migration fees and exploitative practice, government and industry initiatives on fee-free recruitment, and discussion of key concerns surrounding free-free recruitment.
- Empowering Assistance for Trafficked Persons. May 2017. The paper provides a brief landscape analysis of mainstream trafficking victim assistance programs in Southeast Asia from the lens of empowerment, emphasizing the need to adapt current approaches to more directly address the real situations and needs of trafficked persons.
- Updated Guide to Ethics and Human Rights in Anti-Trafficking: Ethical Standards and Approaches for Working with Migrant Workers and Trafficked Persons in the Digital Age. 21 February 2018. This is a guide for any organisation or business working with migrant workers and/or trafficked persons. It is full of checklists and practical tools to guide anti-trafficking and responsible sourcing programs, and especially vital for organizations interacting with migrant workers digitally, such as through social media or other online, tech-enabled means.
Significance for seafood businesses: Issara has built partnerships with UK retailers and processors to improve labour conditions in their seafood supply chain. Collaborative, industry-wide, pre-competitive initiatives can help to identify problems and share the cost of developing and implementing solutions. These provide opportunities to share knowledge and insight, learn from others, build your own knowledge, share best practice, and network with others in the same situation.