The rise of robots in manufacturing in Southeast Asia is likely to fuel modern-day slavery as workers who end up unemployed due to automation face abuses competing for a shrinking pool of low-paid jobs in a “race to the bottom”. Especially, the workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines — at least 137 million people — risk losing their jobs because of the automation in the next two decades. Those workers are more vulnerable to workplace abuses as they jostle for fewer jobs at lower wages.
Burmese migrants charged with defamation after alleging labour abuses in Thailand’s multimillion-pound poultry export industry. The Burmese migrants allege they were forced to work 22-hour days at Thammakaset Farm 2, at times having to sleep in the chicken sheds with 30,000 hens. They also said their freedom of movement was severely restricted. Thailand’s important and well publicised efforts to systematically address migrant worker exploitation are seriously undermined as migrants cannot speak up.
According to the World Bank, forest fires in Indonesia last year caused the country at least $16 billion economic losses, which is equivalent to 1.9 percent of its GDP. The haze caused by the fire blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in September and October, which was cleared by the rainy season in early November. Many of the fires were set by smallholders and companies to clear land for agriculture, especially palm oil, which makes it difficult for Indonesian authorities to respond to the fires.
While estimates from various UN bodies claim “decreasing deforestation rates and increased afforestation” over recent years, a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters indicates a 62% acceleration in net deforestation in the humid tropics from the 1990s to the 2000s. The new study used satellite images to examine the tropical forests of 34 countries, including Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand, that collectively house 80 percent of the world’s tropical forest area. Brazil “dominated” tropical forest losses, according to the study, showing a 33 percent acceleration in the amount of forest that was lost over the time period. According to the researchers the difference is because the UN mostly uses country based self-reporting rather than analysis of satellite data. The drought currently hitting Brazil has in part been blamed on deforestation.
Thailand's Dong Phayayen-Khoyai Forest Complex is in danger of losing its World Heritage status because illegal logging is destroying the forest. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says there is ineffective management to prevent the illegal logging of Siamese rosewood that was once abundant in the area. The IUCN is also concerned about plans to build a hydroelectric dam in the forest although the director of the Cultural and Natural Environmental Management Bureau said that there is a high possibility that the construction of the dam will not go ahead.
A new Global Witness report, ‘Deadly Environment’, shows there has been a surge in the killing of activists protecting land rights and the environment over the past decade with three times as many deaths in 2012 compared to the previous 10 years. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries with only 10 convictions. The most deadly countries in the scope of the report were Brazil (448 since 2002), Honduras (109), Philippines (67), Peru (58) and Thailand (16). The deaths are linked to activism against a range of activities including illegal logging, cattle ranching, soy bean farming, mining and the building of hydroelectric dams.
Monks and villagers in Ubon Ratchathani’s Khemmarat district of Thailand have teamed up to protect their 100-year old Siamese rosewood forest from illegal logging gangs. The rosewood trees in this area have grown naturally for 100 years, and most are more than six metres high. By closing the temple doors during the night, the monks are preventing illegal logging gangs from entering the temple and cutting down the trees. Most illegally cut rosewood trees are transferred to China via Laos and Vietnam. During 2008 – 2014, over 27,000 pieces of Siamese rosewood have been confiscated by police and some 395 offenders arrested.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce has revealed that US$ 17 million worth of timber was recently found to have been smuggled from Myanmar to China via illegal routes avoiding official checkpoints along the road to Muse, Myanmar's border town with China. Most of Myanmar’s trade is with China and Thailand and with Chinese import restrictions on some agricultural products from Myanmar, local exporters find it difficult to get health recommendations from China for their exports, creating a growing illegal trade.
A new WWF report warns that the Greater Mekong subregion in Southeast Asia risks losing more than a third of its natural forest cover in the next two decades at current rates of deforestation. The region, which is host to vital freshwater systems and forests depended upon by iconic species and a huge human population, is threatened by dam development, poaching and timber theft. The local governments have also given away large concessions to mining companies and plantation owners in designated protected areas.
Burmese authorities detained eighty Thai citizens who were suspected to have engaged in illegal logging in Burmese territory. Seizures of timber-cutting machinery, bulldozers and trucks were also made by the Burmese security forces. Since the arrests, 31 have been released but 49 are still being detained following negotiations with Thai authorities.