As much as 90% of the people employed by the Thai fishing industry are migrant workers. Hope for a better future drives entire families to become migrant workers in Thailand. Children are in a particularly vulnerable position, as there is a risk they do not enter schools and end up working for the fishing industry instead.
In 2015, Plan and K Group began a collaboration in an effort to improve working conditions for the migrant workers and promote the protection and education of the children. K Group wanted to examine the supply chain for its own brand Pirkka fish and shellfish products, and ensure that responsibility in the supply chain extended to the fishing communities.
From the beginning, both parties sought to establish a new type of collaboration.
"Neither of us could have achieved these results on our own. When companies and NGOs combine their forces, great results can be obtained. We can recommend this type of collaboration to others, too," say Ossi Heinänen, Secretary General of Plan International Finland, and Matti Kalervo, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at K Group.
Supply chains in the fishing industry are complex, and tracing them to the lowest steps is challenging.
"By working together with K Group, Plan has gained access to companies and workers in the Thai fishing industry and has been able to engage in a dialogue with them. It has been great to see how local companies have wanted to work with us in improving children's rights in their operations," says Ossi Heinänen.
"Thanks to our local partners at Plan, we have been able to promote responsibility in the Thai fishing industry together with the factories and local authorities, and have been able to visit the fishing communities," says Matti Kalervo.
More than 1,100 children educated in learning centres
In between 2015 and 2018, Plan and K Group together with their partners have provided support to some 6,000 members of migrant worker families, and have trained 34 suppliers on issues related to social responsibility. Special learning centres established at the beginning of the project have provided education to some 1,150 children (593 girls and 550 boys) of migrant families between the ages of 4 and 17. The children have been taught the local language and other skills that enable them to move on to study at public schools in Thailand. As a result, 283 children (113 girls and 170 boys) have transitioned to public schools.
Plan’s local partner organisation, Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), has played a key role in supporting the migrant families and helping them adjust to life in Thailand.
"An important part of our work has been reaching out to families before they decide to migrate. We have provided information to 3,500 people in Cambodia on how to safely migrate to Thailand, and supported migrants in finding employment and making the birth registrations required for children to be able to attend school," says Ossi Heinänen.
As part of the collaboration, K Group and Plan have organised social responsibility training for suppliers.
"We have helped suppliers understand what social responsibility audits, like the amfori BSCI which we use, are about, and how the audits can help improve operations in the suppliers’ factories and working conditions for their staff," says Matti Kalervo.
The work to promote the rights of children in developing countries continues
The collaboration is part of a larger project, SEAS of Change, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in Thailand and Cambodia.
As the collaboration draws to a close, funding is sought from e.g. SIDA for an extension to the project, with activities set to expand also to Myanmar.
"In upcoming years, we will focus our efforts especially on Thai authorities in an effort to ensure that the children of migrant families will continue to have the right to learn," says Ossi Heinänen.
K Group is constantly seeking new projects in which it can promote responsibility in its purchasing chains.
"Through our responsible purchasing chains, we can positively impact the rights of women and girls around the world. In new projects, we place special focus on the promotion of the rights of girls and women," says Matti Kalervo.